Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Sweet Briar Story

I received an email on Tuesday from the president of SBC saying that due to "insurmountable financial challenges," the school would be closing in August.  The class of 2015 will graduate, and then the school will cease to exist.  The Sweet Briar community has been reeling ever since.  My heart goes out to all the students who won't be able to finish their degrees at SBC, all the professors who are now out of jobs and homes, and to the students who were accepted into the class of 2019, who now have to scramble at the last minute to find a new school in which to begin their college careers.

As Sweet Briar Alumnae always do, we have banded together to see what can be done about the situation.  I don't know what the answers are, but I am hopeful that some compromises will be reached, if not to re-open the school as it has always been, than at least to make sure everyone is taken care of and not turned out on the street.

My Sweet Briar Story

In the summer before my senior year of high school, I visited 3 schools.  Alfred University in New York, St Mary of the Woods in Indiana, and Sweet Briar in Virginia.  They main thing that they all had in common was a riding program that I could pretend to be able to afford.  (In other words, their riding programs were at least cheaper than any others I had seen).  I knew that I did not want to go to a school where I couldn't ride.  Alfred definitely didn't seem like the place for me.  The stables were off campus and I wouldn't have my own car.  The dorms were at the top of a hill, the classrooms at the bottom.  I thought about all the snow the school would get, and how much I would hate that hill in the winter.  About how much I would hate the winters in general.  Nothing about my visit sold the school tome.  St Mary of the Woods was ok, but it didn't really speak to me either.  I liked Sweet Briar.  The campus was gorgeous.  The stables were a mile from the main campus, but it wasn't too far to walk if I ever found myself without a ride.  My idea of creating some kind of combined English/History major for myself was met with support.

I applied early decision to Sweet Briar.  I did not apply anywhere else.  My friends told me I couldn't go to a women's college.  They told me it was a terrible idea to go to a school with no boys.  They told me I wouldn't be able to function in society after I graduated.  I shrugged off their fears, telling them I could always transfer if I didn't like it.  Of course I didn't end up transferring.  I loved Sweet Briar.

I didn't love Orientation.  I have always hated ice breaker activities.  I just wanted to get to the school part.  Instead, I had to play stupid games with Hampden Sydney boys.  There was some game where everyone introduced themselves and I forget exactly how it worked, but somehow you had to say a certain person's name.  The guy who was supposed to say mine looked at me and said "$hit."  I just wanted to go hide in my room.  That night while everyone else was partying on the dell with the boys, I watched Moulin Rouge on my laptop with another girl from my hall who also had no desire to join the party.

Eventually, classes started.  I took 2 English courses, a History course, and a 300 level Spanish Lit course.  I was in the honors version of freshman English, which was called "Men in Love." We read books like Lolita and The Sorrows of Young Werther.  The professor swore a lot.  It caught me off guard.  Swearing teachers is not something you experience at a Catholic boarding school.  By the end of the semester I was used to it and recognized that it wasn't done with any sort of malice, they were just words thrown into the dialogue of the class.  I loved my History course, even though I really hadn't been very fond of my high school history courses. The professor let us write our papers however we wanted.  As long as they contained good points, references, information, etc, any format was fine.  I wrote a sestina for one of my papers.  It was the highest grade I ever received on a History paper.  I spent the rest of my college career trying to achieve that level of perfection again.  My Spanish Literature course overwhelmed me.  I had aced the Spanish placement exam, but it had been easy grammar and vocab.  I was in no way prepared to jump into reading and understanding chapter books.  I somehow muddled my way through the class, but was discouraged and ended up taking the next two semesters off from Spanish.

As the time came to choose classes for my second semester, I found myself at a bit of a loss.  I had thought I wanted to focus on English and History, but I couldn't find a single English course that sounded interesting.  I scrapped the English plan and decided to just stick to History.  Ancient/Medieval History to be exact.  Sure, I took classes from the various time periods that were required for the History Major, but other than that I stuck to classes that centered around things that happened before the French Revolution.

In my sophomore year, I had to get an "intro to History" course completed, since I hadn't bothered my freshman year.  I chose "Hitler and Stalin."  The first day of class, the professor walked in wearing gym shorts and a tie-dye t-shirt, and asked us to tell what we would think of him if we saw him walking down a street somewhere and didn't know anything about him.  This was possibly an even stranger experience for me than the swearing English professor.  I apparently wrote a scathing review of the professor at the end of the semester, which he had a tendency to remind me about later in my college career when I learned to like him and appreciate him.  College was a lesson in tolerance that I'm sure has helped me immensely in my post-college life.

I returned to Spanish classes at the end of my sophomore year, recognizing that it would be a huge waste of my natural aptitude for the vocabulary and grammar to not continue studying.  I declared a Spanish Minor, and was inducted into Sigma Delta Pi, the National Spanish Honors Society, at the end of my junior year. In my senior year, I was able to do an Independent Study on translation, which I loved.

Sigma Delta Pi Induction

In addition to riding horses every semester like I had been determined to do, I also worked at the barn every semester.  Most daylight hours not spent in class were spent working.  I got along well with the Stable Manager and the other staff, and enjoyed the jobs I did.  I didn't always enjoy my co-worker students, but I was trained in barn work by a very strict person back home, and so worked very quickly and efficiently and had no patience for slower workers.  If there were 20 horses to bring in, I could bring in about 15 of them in the time it took my partner to bring in 5.  I was occasionally lucky enough to work with someone else who worked like me, and those shifts were awesome.



The girl I worked with bringing in horses early in the mornings during freshman spring semester talked me into trying out for the Sweet Tones.  They became my family for the remainder of my time at Sweet Briar, and I was the musical director of the group during my senior year.  I am still friends with several of them.

Sweet Briar gave me so many amazing opportunities for my voice.  At the end of my sophomore year, I got to sing Mozart's Exultate Jubilate while accompanied by an orchestra.    I had two incredible Voice teachers and several great accompanists throughout my time at SBC, and I was able to give a full Senior Voice Recital, which was an amazing experience.  I was given the impression that Senior Recitals were generally reserved for Music Majors, and I was only a reluctant Music Minor. (All I wanted to do was sing.  I had zero interest in Music Theory or Music History.)

I grew up a lot during my time at Sweet Briar.  It is sometimes hard to recognize that now, because I have also grown up a lot since I graduated and entered the "real world."  But Sweet Briar helped me grow to the place I needed to be in order to function and survive in the professional world, so that I could continue to grow in post-college life.

Sweet Briar was my home for four years.  After I graduated, I moved two hours away, and I think I visited campus at least once a month during the following year.  After that, almost all of my remaining friends on campus graduated, and my visits became less frequent, but it always felt like returning home when I did find a reason to visit.  I loved seeing the campus again, and visiting with professors.  The thought that the school may cease to exist, and that I will no longer be able to visit the place and people that I am so fond of, is hard.  It certainly makes me wish that I had visited more over the past 7 years since I graduated.  I don't know what the future of Sweet Briar holds, but whatever it is, I hope it is for the best.  And I hope the current students, faculty, and staff are taken care of.

Here's to Sweet Briar HOLLA HOLLA HOLLA nothing that you cannot do, 
work for the good and work for the right, always doing something and doing it right 
so here's to Sweet Briar HOLLA HOLLA HOLLA nothing that you cannot do!

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