President's Blog

Archive for August 2012

Welcome Week!

I think I can safely say that everyone who works at Sweet Briar loves what I call “welcome week.” I know I do.

This week was one welcome event after another. Student leaders arrived for training, preparation, and teambuilding, bringing their wonderful energy and stories about their summer adventures with them. (They positively glow when talking about their internships.) There were a few new features on their program this year: for example, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities offered a workshop called “Break the Cycle, Be the Change” that was extremely well received. (And not surprisingly, afterwards, the VCIC facilitators were full of praise for the quality and energy of Sweet Briar students.) Personally, I did “workout workshops” with both the student Peer Health Educators and the SGA leadership team to connect concepts of leadership with wellness.

Greeting athletes and their families at check-in in the FAC

Vixen athletes (Go Sweet!) arrived for pre-season. Every coach I’ve spoken with is full of enthusiasm about this year’s recruits. Returning athletes welcomed first-year teammates and offered lots of tips and inside information to the new students. In welcoming the athletes and their families, I reminded them that Sweet Briar is proud of its Vixens for what they accomplish on the field but also in the classroom and in the community. Year after year, for example, the GPAs of Vixen athletes are higher than the campus average (Holla Holla) — our Vixens are truly student-athletes in the spirit of NCAA Division III.

A “successful summer” picnic celebrated those members of staff whose work made the summer (with all its derecho-induced challenges) a great one here on campus.

The Boathouse lit for our party

Members of the Physical Plant, Housekeeping, Campus Safety, Hospitality, and Facilities teams along with their families gathered for a terrific steak dinner and an evening watching the sun set over the lake. What a great way to catch our collective breath before plunging into the activity of the semester. . .

And then, yesterday, at last, the arrival of the class of 2016 and other new transfer and Turning Point students!

At the welcome assembly for students and their families, Dean of Enrollment Steven Nape shared the story of how, to his surprise, he discovered an intellectual passion for philosophy in college. He assured them that here at Sweet Briar they too will discover life-long interests.

Dean Steven Nape

Dean Amy Jessen-Marshall

Dean of Faculty Amy Jessen-Marshall encouraged the new students to revel in the experience of being new. Reflecting that last year was her own first year at Sweet Briar, she reminded them that while being new has its challenges, it has enormous benefits (for example, people try very hard to be patient with you!) and is an experience to be cherished, not simply endured.


Today the returning students arrive and Wednesday is Opening Convocation, formally launching the new school year.

Arriving for the Welcome Assembly

For me, the first week of the academic year always brings an overwhelming sense of optimism and good fortune. How lucky we all are to come together in this beautiful place to share the remarkable work of learning together. Happy New (Academic) Year!

Family, Unpacking


Home Again!

I’m back from vacation and delighted to see work on the library addition/renovation beginning in earnest. If you’d like to follow along, there’s a flikr stream where you can find photos. Even better, there’s a live web cam; you can check in there from time to time as well. We’re off to a great start!

Every time I pass the site I’m excited about the wonderful new facility that we’ll be opening in just about two years. And I’m grateful to all the donors and supporters who, over the years, have contributed to making this project possible. If you visit campus during the construction, I hope you’ll forgive the inevitable noise and mud — the final product will be well worth it.

Thanks to those who’ve asked about vacation — especially those who asked about any book recommendations. I read three books that I found engrossing (or rather, “read” three: one was an audio book and I’m still not sure whether listening to one is “reading” or not.)

Two are biographies. Julia Fox’s biography of Jane Boleyn was fascinating as the telling of a quite familiar story from a point of view which I had not considered before — that of Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law. There’s an interesting interview with the author here. I also picked up a biography of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, known to history and wine-lovers as the Widow (Veuve) Clicquot. As a history of an industry, full of details about 18th and 19th century wine production, and a study of one woman’s prominent role in that industry, it surprised me with many “trivial” but engaging tidbits of information.

And the third was fiction. Rick and I listened to the audio book of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. We’re both fans of alternative histories and enjoy playing with the various “what-ifs” they inspire. This one was interesting enough to fill up the round trip drive between Virginia and Ontario, which is saying something.

Have you read books this summer you’d like to recommend? Email me and I’ll be glad to do a post or two summarizing your suggestions!