Little things, favorite traditions ease the stress of finals

Oh my gosh, where did the semester go?! It seems like I was just drafting a posting to talk about spring, and now I’m already talking about the end of the school year! I hope your daughters all had a wonderful spring term, and a wonderful spring break.

As I’m writing, this is finals week when everyone is stressing about finishing papers and projects and taking final exams. I’m sure there is lots of stress eating, but there are also some great little things that the College and students do to provide stress relievers. Here’s what our daughters were treated to during the last week of classes, courtesy of Sweet Briar:

It began on Monday, April 25, with free massages in Prothro. I’m sure there were lots of tight muscles that were grateful that day.

Lantern Bearing; photo by Cassie Foster/Sweet Briar College
Lantern Bearing; by Cassie Foster/Sweet Briar College

On Tuesday, the admissions office hosted Bagel Bash. After all, food is important fuel.

Thursday was Dog Therapy day at the library, always a big favorite! How can you not smile and relax a little when you’re getting doggy love?

On Friday, it was time to de-stress with crafts in Reid Pit. Crafting is nice break from the mental intensity of studying.

Lantern Bearing, a wonderful tradition, was held Friday evening in the quad. Near the end of the year, seniors ask an underclasswoman to make a “lantern” for her. The students gather, seniors wearing their graduation robes and underclasswomen in white. To represent the four years the seniors spent at Sweet Briar, everyone walks around the quad three times and the seniors walk the fourth time around alone to represent their fourth year. The seniors then sit on the senior steps while the underclasswomen line the pathway and sing to the seniors, marking one of the last traditions the seniors participate in at Sweet Briar.

Things are intense with final exams this week. I’m sure you know that Sweet Briar’s Honor Code enables our daughters to schedule when to take each exam during the week. What wonderful flexibility to have; I know many college students who wish they could schedule their own exams!

Sunday, May 1, was End Procrastination in Josey, with prize giveaways as incentives

Also on Sunday was Scream Night — yes, this is literally what it is called! On the night before exams begin, everyone gathers in front of the chapel to let out their stress in a scream as the bells chime 10 o’clock. The students also can pick up some study snacks.

Then on Tuesday, there was note burning in the lower quad. There’s just something satisfying about burning those notes, like a final goodbye.

Exam snacks were available every day in the library.

Lastly, on Saturday was Floatopia and mason jar decorating at the Boathouse — time to relax and float away all that stress now that finals are over!

RP-bareminerals_twitter_congratsThis year of course has an extra special treat – did you hear about the Chegg Music 101 contest?

According to the new release, “Sweet Briar College amassed the most votes through the online contest. This win has a particularly special meaning for Sweet Briar, which nearly closed its doors in 2015. Rachel Platten’s ‘Fight Song’ became the rallying anthem for students and alumnae, who raised more than $12 million in a successful campaign that overturned the previous administration’s decision to close the College.

“To celebrate the importance of arts in education, Sweet Briar will also receive a $10,000 grant for its music department from Chegg’s David B. Goldberg Music Scholarship fund. The classroom takeover will take place before the end of May 2016.”

It has since been announced that the concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday May 7. It is sure to be an amazing event!

And of course Saturday, May 14, is graduation day for our seniors. It is always a beautiful event, and this year’s speaker is a successful tech entrepreneur — Leah Solivan Busque ’01, founder of TaskRabbit. For more information about commencement, please click here.

Wishing your daughter and your family a wonderful summer! For those whose daughters are not graduating, talk to you next year!

I’m back! What’s on your mind?

Lydia Fleck ’16 was out and about with her camera during the storm.
Lydia Fleck ’16 was out and about with her camera during the storm.

Welcome back! My surgery went well, and I am in recovery mode. I have at least one more surgery to complete the process, but hopefully the most difficult part is behind me 🙂 I’m sorry that I didn’t make it back before the end of the semester, but initial recovery took longer than I thought. Thank you everyone for your well wishes, I appreciate it! 🙂

How was your winter break? I hope that you got to enjoy some time with your daughters. A month sounds like a long time, but it always goes by so fast. And those who are athletes come back early to start preparing for the spring competition season. Thankfully, we got to enjoy some time with our daughter, so we felt blessed. I hope you did too!

Much fun in the snow was had by all. Photo by Sweet Briar College/Cassie Foster.
Much fun in the snow was had by all. Photo by Sweet Briar College/Cassie Foster.

How did you fare in the blizzard of 2016? Without incident, I hope. I saw some beautiful pictures of the Sweet Briar campus covered in snow, so some pictures are included here in case you didn’t get to see any. The campus is so beautiful and serene, and the snow just added a magical look. From what I hear, some food service staff stayed on campus for the weekend so that Prothro remained open, the students enjoyed a day off from school on that Friday, and many enjoyed fun in the snow over the weekend. I imagine that there was a lot of hot chocolate consumed that weekend! We live in Vienna, Va., right outside Washington, and I was shocked to learn that we got a lot more snow than Sweet Briar did.

Around campus, main roads were already cleared by Saturday, and classes resumed on Monday. Where I live, some people were still snowed in until Wednesday! But by the time of this blog posting, most of the snow has melted away, and life has returned to normal here, too.

The spring semester is in full swing. By now, all of your daughters have had a few weeks of classes, and should be settled into their routine for this semester. I hear this week (week of Feb. 8) is a heavy week of projects and tests. If your daughter needs help, be sure she knows to take full advantage of the Academic Resource Center, known as the ARC. Whether she’s looking for someone to assist her with a current writing project, work with her on structuring her study time or prep for a test, help her get comfortable with classroom technologies, or mentor her through the demands of a rigorous academic schedule, the ARC can help your daughter take control of her own educational experience. For more information, visit the ARC website here.

Did you hear about the Sweet Briar Town Hall Meeting that was hosted on Feb. 5? Alumnae, faculty, staff, students and Amherst County community members packed into The Conference Center that Friday afternoon for the College’s first town hall meeting.

This was just one of many to come, said board Chair Teresa Tomlinson, who answered questions alongside Sweet Briar College President Phillip C. Stone.

“This is your show. This is for you,” Tomlinson announced, adding that the board of directors would be sure to make note of everyone’s concerns.

“We really want to hear from all of you,” Stone said. “Nothing is off limits — we may not be able to answer it, but nothing is off limits.”

For the next hour or so, questions ranged from what the plan might be for the College’s 3,250 acres to accommodating more international students to whether there could be staff or student representatives on the board of directors. Attendees also asked what the record application numbers mean, and whether there a written marketing plan or a branding initiative underway.

For answers to these questions, and the many others that came up during the meeting, please watch the full video on the Sweet Briar website (the first 15 minutes of the video are just music, so you can skip ahead to the start of the meeting).

I encourage you to reach out and let me or the Office of Media, Marketing and Communications (at know if you liked the town hall concept as a means of communication, and if so how often you would like a similar event to occur, as well as whether you liked or disliked what you heard during the discussion. There were quite a few things I heard that I liked a lot, and one message was loud and clear: Transparency and doing the right thing — not just the easy thing to appease but that doesn’t meet the real objective — are important to this administration and board. I am thrilled with the mindset and the efforts to date. Are you? Information on subsequent town halls is to be determined, but I will keep you posted and let you know if any of my suggestions are implemented 🙂

Please remember, never hesitate to email me if you have concerns that you would like to have addressed by someone at Sweet Briar, or that you want to be addressed in the next town hall. I will be sure your concerns reach the appropriate office, and that you get a response.

What topics would YOU like me to address? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, I’ll talk to you soon!

Giving thanks for new life at Sweet Briar

Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving, and getting to see your daughter? I know I am! 🙂 Hard to believe school started 13 weeks ago. Has time flown for you, too? I chuckle as I hear about the various school “pets” which need to be fostered during Thanksgiving break — a python, a skink (yes, that’s skink, not skunk; I’d never heard of one either before now!) and other assorted critters. We have three pets of our own coming home — a horse, a fish and a guinea pig that lives with a friend in the Village. Plus we already have three cats and a dog. Feels like old times, having a whole menagerie again, and I confess that I love it 🙂

How was Families’ Day? I had other commitments so I did not attend, but I hope that you could attend and enjoyed the experience. What did you really like about it? Any suggestions for improvement for next time? Feel free to share your thoughts with me, and I’ll be sure they are heard by the right people.

President Stone addresses a group of local alumnae at a town hall event held on campus Nov. 15.
President Stone addresses alumnae at a local event held on campus Nov. 15.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, I attended the Washington, D.C., regional town hall in Centreville, Va. As usual, President Stone’s speech was informative, positive, uplifting and humorous, and he was great about answering questions from the group. If you are still wondering whether Sweet Briar will flourish, you can definitely put that question to bed permanently. President Stone is a leader who knows how to mobilize people to focus on the key things for the school to become financially solvent — a balanced budget, recruiting students and raising money — as well as recognizing smart things to spend money on to bring the school back to what is should be. For example, did you notice that new flagpole with a spotlight proudly flying the American flag in the main roundabout? Another example: Because most kids these days live and die by social media, the College has hired a marketing firm to assist with its social media marketing to prospective students.

The board also recently approved a budget that uses only 5 percent of the College’s endowment for the current year, the lowest percentage in more than 10 years, according to the Nov. 2 board report. Using no more than 5 percent is important because it is considered an industry benchmark for sustaining a healthy endowment. From what I’ve heard, this is the first time in over 25 years that Sweet Briar has only drawn 5 percent of its endowment for the year. Hopefully it goes without saying why a balanced budget is important. 🙂

Recruiting students is always important, but understandably Sweet Briar is playing catch-up here. In addition to “typical” recruiting efforts, Sweet Briar (I’m pretty sure Marcia Thom-Kaley has been the lead on this) has mobilized a large group of alumnae and some parents (and more are always welcome!) to help spread the word about Sweet Briar. They are attending college fairs, talking to local high schools and community colleges, having an alumna make follow-up calls to every prospective student who visits the campus, and even trying to match alumnae with prospective students according to particular areas of interest. The College is also hosting fun and interesting events that bring the girls to campus, from riding open houses to the Explore Engineering sessions, and hopefully others. If you have an idea for fun and interesting events that will attract high school students to the campus, please feel free to email it to me. I’ll make sure the appropriate people consider your suggestion and give you feedback on their decision.

Every college needs effective fundraising, and we are blessed to have Mary Pope Maybank Hutson ’83 as the new vice president for alumnae relations and development effective Jan. 1. Mary Pope led the Saving Sweet Briar campaign’s major donor task force beginning in March when the former administration announced its intention to close Sweet Briar, through September, when the group delivered its final payment to the College and fulfilled the terms of the settlement agreement to keep the College open. See more about Mary Pope here. Clearly, Mary Pope is motivated and effective, so we are in excellent hands!

Best of all, in the midst of all of this, President Stone truly understands the soul and culture of Sweet Briar, wants to preserve it, and takes actions to do so. He always talks about the importance of not just rebuilding Sweet Briar, but retaining the culture and soul of Sweet Briar because that is what makes Sweet Briar unique and exceptional. Holla, holla to President Stone and his administration!

While I always enjoy interactions with President Stone, my favorite part of the evening was getting to meet more amazing Sweet Briar alumnae! I met women from a broad age range, from a delightful young woman who graduated last spring, to women around my age, to much older women. I looked across the room and was surprised and pleased to recognize and reconnect with a friend that I hadn’t seen in probably 20-plus years! Back then, I hadn’t even heard of Sweet Briar, but when my daughter was accepted there, I realized that she is a Sweet Briar alumna. Every time I meet a Sweet Briar alumna, I’m always so impressed — every one I’ve met is intelligent, self-motivated, solution-oriented, articulate, friendly and well dressed. I walk away from every Sweet Briar gathering thinking, “Wow, we are so blessed to have found Sweet Briar!”

If you have an opportunity to go to a Sweet Briar regional town hall or an alumnae event, I highly recommend it! Feel free to bring friends and prospective students — after meeting Sweet Briar alumnae, any high school student who wants to excel in life will want to consider Sweet Briar!

On a different note, I’m not sure when my next blog will be. I am recovering from breast cancer, and am having breast reconstruction surgery on Tuesday, Nov. 24. I tell you this because I don’t know how soon I’ll be lucid enough to write a blog entry, and I didn’t want you to wonder if I just fell off of the face of the earth. 🙂 Hopefully I’ll be back before the end of the semester.

I wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that it is restful and joyful, and you get to enjoy spending time with your daughter.

What topics would YOU like me to address? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, I’ll talk to you again before we know it!

SBC will be there for her, even when you can’t

Wow, Halloween weekend was scary! Yes, it was Halloween, but for me that was not the scary part. I was very frightened when my daughter Julia texted me that she skipped class and was huddled on her bed, crying because she was in so much pain. I told her to go to the nurse NOW to be seen. She has been battling a mystery pain in her abdomen for several months, and was tired of being poked and prodded with no resolution, but this could not be ignored. Long story short, she ended up in the emergency room in Lynchburg General Hospital, diagnosed with a kidney infection, and had to be given morphine to make the pain subside to a tolerable level. Thankfully a friend had driven her to the ER, and in the wee hours of the morning she was back in her dorm room. Needless to say, that next morning my husband and I drove down to see how she was doing, and to spend the weekend caring for her. Hopefully you have never needed to know that a kidney infection is extremely painful! We got her on a consistent schedule of narcotic and non-narcotic pain meds, antibiotics and anti-nausea medications, and by Sunday night she actually wanted to eat a piece of pizza. Thankfully, she was back to classes while she finishes her antibiotics, and hopefully that is the last of the kidney infection.

There’s nothing like being too many miles away to help when your daughter is really sick to make you feel helpless. But there were several wonderful things that happened that should make you feel good about your daughter being at Sweet Briar:

Even though this ordeal started early Friday afternoon and lasted well past midnight, several friends didn’t hesitate to take time out of their busy Halloween Friday to drive Julia to Lynchburg General, stay with her, bring her food, drive her to the pharmacy to get her medications and ensure she took them as prescribed, drive her back to Sweet Briar, put her to bed and ensure she had what she needed. They kept an eye on her and helped as needed until we arrived. What another heartwarming display of how these young women truly look out for each other, and take care of each another without a second thought. Not how anyone wants to spend a Friday night on any weekend, much less on Halloween weekend when I’m sure there were many more fun and exciting things these girls would rather have been doing. But instead they did what was needed, just like you would do for your own family. They are only sophomores, but these Sweet Briar women already truly function as an extended family.

In addition, Julia missed a class on Friday, all of her classes on Monday and Tuesday, and couldn’t even spell her name properly over the weekend, so homework was out of the question. She emailed her teachers to let them know why, and they were all very understanding, sympathetic, and encouraged her not to worry about class and assignments, that when she was well enough to resume, they would work with her so that she can catch up on what she missed. You don’t see anything close to that kind of compassion and flexibility at a larger school. Julia is taking 18 tough credit hours this semester, and without her teachers’ flexibility, I really don’t know how she would be able to catch up. Instead of being stressed out the whole time she was sick, she could relax so she could heal as quickly as possible, and knew that she could work things out when she was better.

While I would never wish for this to happen, the silver lining is that Julia is on the mend, and we got to see that no matter what happens, we can count on Sweet Briar to take care of their own, both students and faculty, even when we can’t be there! That thought gives me great comfort; I hope it does for all of you, especially those who are far away, to know that your daughter has a community who will watch out for her in your absence. While of course we would always prefer to be there to care for our daughter when she is sick, her sisters will care for as good as (well, allllllmost as good as 🙂 you would, and her teachers will work with her when she is ready to resume her studies. I sure do love Sweet Briar!

One more quick topic for today: Do you know about the Vixen Den? The Vixen Den provides treats at sporting events, treats in the quad, and other treats on special occasions for the students on campus. Just a little thing, but a great morale booster! Many of the events can be totally funded for $100. Others can cost $1,000. Having many members in the Vixen Den who are willing to participate in funding events increases the number of events and the quality of the goodies. It’s easy to join by searching the Vixen Den on Facebook and requesting to join the group; then you can follow the requests for participation and choose which events to help fund. Won’t you please be open to joining the Vixen Den?

That’s all for today 🙂 What topics would YOU like me to address? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!

Fall means crisp air, Families’ Day and fun

I apologize for taking so long to write. I was out of town helping my ailing father; a couple days after our return, our family dog went missing, so we spent five intensive days searching for him. Thank God we have him back! Then I was sick and exhausted and spent time recovering. Whew! Anyway …

Can you feel it? Fall is definitely in the air — leaves turning colors, cooler nights, less daylight, lots of pumpkin products and frisky horses! There are many things to enjoy about fall, even if those I mentioned don’t rock your world. Our Sweet Briar girls are definitely enjoying the season. My daughter has posted some beautiful photos, once again making me oh-so-happy that she is back at Sweet Briar! One doesn’t show the autumn colors, but it does reflect the beautiful view of Monument Hill on a crisp fall trail ride.

Stopping to pay respects while trail riding on a beautiful fall day.

Exciting news! Sweet Briar is hosting a Families’ Day on Saturday, Nov. 7! It will be a day of special events showcasing your student’s Sweet Briar experience. You’ll have the opportunity to see why Sweet Briar women call this place home. Come see where your student lives and eats, the land she explores and the classrooms where she learns. Sit through a presentation with one of her professors and see firsthand the unique interactions between faculty and students that make Sweet Briar a learning community. Families’ Day is for everyone who is part of the Sweet Briar community. Everyone is in this together to support your student’s pursuits.

Details of the day can be found by visiting the Families’ Day website. Registration for Families’ Day is required. A per-person fee of $20 includes breakfast, lunch and access to the scheduled events throughout the day. The schedule provides flexibility so families can spend time exploring aspects of campus life that interest them — be it a lecture on history, exploring an engineering lab or hiking to the Outing Cabin. However you plan to spend your day, Sweet Briar looks forward to having everyone join together over lunch, which will include an address by President Stone.

Here’s how the ticket process works: When you check out, you are linked to a site to complete payment. There is a $20 per ticket fee for registration. There are also four other free tickets that can be claimed. The free tickets are placeholders for programs that have a size limit. The hike to the Outing Cabin can only accommodate 10 people, each canoe session can only accommodate 14 people and the field trip to the weather tower can accommodate 17 people. Once those sessions fill, it will be noted on the registration form and families will know there is no longer space available in those sessions.

Reminder for families that may desire an overnight stay: Please check with the Elston Inn for availability; if they are full, there are many hotels in nearby Lynchburg.

Please do check out the agenda! Sweet Briar has put together a wonderful day with various options for how each family can experience Sweet Briar, and it is well worth your time. Also, feel free to bring friends or prospective students and their families.

Wednesday, Oct. 21, was a “pink out day” at Sweet Briar.

On a different note, I have a personal moment of joy on the date I am writing this (Wednesday, Oct. 21) because it is a campus-wide “pink out day” at Sweet Briar in support of breast cancer research. As someone who is in recovery from a recent brutal bout with breast cancer, I am so blessed that years of research mean that I am currently cancer free, able to enjoy life, and able to give back. How wonderful that Sweet Briar chose to support breast cancer research, and in doing so, is reinforcing for our girls the importance of coming together to support important social causes.

Also happening this Sunday — students in the Sweet for Schools business seminar will host the Fall Bucket List Festival to benefit Amherst County Public Schools from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, on campus. Admission is free; game and raffle ticket prices will vary. Activities include hayrides, football toss, ring toss, pumpkin bowling, face painting, pumpkin painting and more. The festival will also feature local vendors That’s Too Cute Boutique and Creative Carmella. Light refreshments will be available. Come and enjoy everything you would like to do on a fall day with family and friends! For more information, please email or call (434) 381-6296.

Those are just two examples of how Sweet Briar educates our daughters outside the classroom. There are many others that have occurred previously, or will occur in the future. Thank you Sweet Briar!

That’s all for today 🙂 What topics would YOU like me to address? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!

Traditions demonstrate Sweet Briar is here to stay

Board chair Teresa Tomlinson ’87 places a rose at the memorial where a new inscription was revealed during the 2015 Founders’ Day ceremony. Photo by Ray Barbour.
Board chair Teresa Tomlinson ’87 places a rose at the memorial where a new inscription was revealed during the 2015 Founders’ Day ceremony. Photo by Ray Barbour.

Founders Day weekend – what a glorious commemoration! Friday had events small and large that demonstrated Sweet Briar is here to stay, and a dance on Saturday night that was a joyous celebration! While I was disappointed that I could not be there for all of Friday, I was able to watch video of the proceedings I missed (see convocation and President Stone’s investiture here). The whole weekend was uplifting, with feelings of renewal supported by messages of positive motivation with a focus on what’s important for Sweet Briar to flourish.

During my visit, I met more alumnae, and marveled at their warmth and openness toward me. It reminded me of being around my own Theta sisters. When people are comfortable with who they are, they are much more likely to be warm and open and welcoming to others. I was reminded of yet another attribute that Sweet Briar fosters in her women.

There was a superb band, and as the evening wore on, the dance floor was filled with women and men, young and old, having a fun time together. I felt so blessed to be a part of the occasion; it made my heart swell with joy when I looked around and saw Sweet Briar women of all ages enjoying a memorable evening together.

Several people told my husband and me how thrilled they were to see a Founders’ Day dance that was a celebration of generations of Sweet Briar family and friends — attended by students, alumnae, parents, faculty and staff. I could hear the joy in their voices at seeing the resurgence of another wonderful Sweet Briar tradition.

As I talked to various board members, I heard that plans are in the works to reinstate Parents Weekend. Of course, parents are welcome to visit any time. But let’s face it, our daughters don’t want us to just show up on some random weekend to tag after them, with us hoping they will share some meals and some time with us, and wondering what else to do with our time. Parents Weekend is another example of the current administration doing things to show that they expect Sweet Briar to be here to stay.

Traditions are an important part of the Sweet Briar culture, and our president and board get that. Hallelujah!

Switching gears, have you seen Joan Dabney Clickner’s video? It showcases the beauty and diversity of the Sweet Briar campus and student body. Please share it with anyone you know, on social media, etc., and encourage high school students to view it. Just plant the seed in their minds.

In addition to the alumnae, we are the best recruitment for new students — those of us who know the true Sweet Briar story, and have demonstrated our confidence that Sweet Briar is here to stay. Sweet Briar has a focused push to significantly increase enrollment so we can have a balanced budget. Who better to help than those of us who are already part of the Sweet Briar community?!

Alumnae representatives are spreading the word at college fairs, high schools and community colleges. We could really use your help, too! Go to YOUR local high schools and community colleges, and talk to the college counselors. Explain the real story about Sweet Briar, and the amazing women it produced who saved their college in three short months. Talk about why your daughter is going to Sweet Briar. Just talk to your high school counselors — they know their students, and know those for whom Sweet Briar might be a good fit.

Similarly, if there is a community college near you, you can do the same. If you feel you need some talking points or training, feel free to call the admissions office at (434) 381-6142 and ask for Marcia Thom-Kaley. Or maybe that will be my next blog; or it may be too long for a blog, but I’ll see. 🙂

I’ll close today with one more tradition — Step Singing, which was held Monday, Sept 28. Step Singing occurs each fall and spring. The classes gather together, and each class sings a teasing or admiring song for each of the other classes and one bragging song of themselves. My daughter was so happy when she came back from Step Singing, she said, and I quote, “I love my school!” I was so happy that this tradition is alive and well and bringing joy and closeness to the next generation of Sweet Briar sisters.

That’s all for today. 🙂 What topics would YOU like me to address? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!


Traditions: The ties that bind

Founders' Day is the first time seniors don their robes.
Founders’ Day is the first time seniors don their robes.

Do you have family traditions that bring you joy and help your family feel a bond to each other? Years ago, I realized that an important part of traditions is that they help define a group of people and bring them closer together. Traditions are yet another thing that I love about Sweet Briar. People ask me sometimes if Sweet Briar has sororities. My answer is that no, Sweet Briar is one big sorority. It has traditions like a sorority, it forms sub-groups that have permeable inclusion so that people who have common interests and goals can share and pursue them together, and, ultimately, all of the “sorority-like” things about Sweet Briar are one important reason why you see such love and fierce loyalty for their school and each other.

I understand the value of a sorority because a “few” years ago, I went to the University of Maryland with 44,000 of my closest friends (ha ha!). To find “my people” in that huge population, I joined the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority — KAT, known as the Thetas. To this day, I know that it was one of the best decisions of my life. I made many, many wonderful friends, including one of my lifelong best friends. In addition to our annual Founder’s Day, a group of us still get together for reunions every five years (our next one is this October and I can’t wait!!). I shared traditions, joys and sorrows with my sisters. I learned so much about community and leadership. It prepared me for life in countless ways that had nothing to do with academics. I see these same things happen at Sweet Briar, and it makes me incredibly happy for my daughter!

One Sweet Briar tradition that is similar to my sorority is that of having Big/Little Sisters. Typically in September, first-year Sweet Briar students (“Little Sisters” or “Littles”) are paired with a third-years to be their “Big Sisters” (or “Bigs”). As the names imply, a Big Sister is a mentor and a friend to her Little Sister, the Big helping the Little feel more comfortable at Sweet Briar. It gives the Little someone to go to with any question without fear of feeling embarrassed. Bigs introduce Littles to their friends, thus helping draw the older and younger girls closer together; Littles and Bigs will do lots of small things to help each other, and hopefully become good friends.

Step Singing, another revered Sweet Briar tradition, takes place is the fall and spring.
Step Singing, another Sweet Briar tradition, takes place is the fall and spring.

Of course, first-year students quickly grow up to be third-year students, and then it is their turn to be the Big — a beautiful tradition of “paying it forward” while forming a chain of friendships that extends from one generation of Sweet Briar sisters to the next. Speaking from my experience, it is equally as gratifying to be a Little as it is to be a Big. I was so grateful that my Big helped me navigate a world that was totally new to me and a little overwhelming at times. She gave me not only guidance, but comfort and strength; I knew she would always help me if I needed her. We quickly became close friends and shared much together! Then, when I became a Big, it felt wonderful to be that mentor and friend to my Little, so much so that I “adopted” an orphaned Little. She is one of my lifelong closest friends.

I see these same Big-Little dynamics at Sweet Briar, and it warms my heart. I hope it warms yours, too.

Transfer students can also be included in this wonderful tradition, and this year, if a Big returned to Sweet Briar but her Little did not — or vice versa — they tried to pair orphaned Bigs and Littles who wanted to. Always attempting to keep everyone included!

You may have heard about another tradition that is coming up this weekend called Founders’ Day. Seniors wear their graduation robes for the first time, while all the other students wear black and white. Everyone walks up to Monument Hill to pay respect to the founding family, and each senior is accompanied by one or two underclasswomen. After a brief memorial service, each student leaves a daisy on Daisy’s grave. This year, Sweet Briar will celebrate Founder’s Day Weekend on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26. In addition to the traditional walk to Monument Hill, the College also will invest Phillip C. Stone as its 12th president.

Events will begin with the investiture at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, in the Quad (rain location: Fitness and Athletics Center), followed by the walk to Monument Hill. Beginning at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, is the celebration dance in the Student Commons Courtyard. All students, faculty, staff, retirees, alumnae, supporters of the College and their guests (yes, that includes us parents!) are cordially invited to all Founders’ Day festivities. Unfortunately, I am unable to there on Friday, but I look forward to seeing as many of you as can attend on Saturday! For more details on everything happening, please see SBC News release or the Founders’ Day website.

And if you want to learn more about Sweet Briar’s traditions, a great place to start is here.

That’s all for today. What are YOUR concerns? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!

2015-2016 begins!

President Stone delivered a state-of-the-College address on Monday, Aug. 24. Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan.

What an amazing week! Move-in days went as expected, and were beautiful days to arrive at Sweet Briar. Did you notice how beautifully manicured the campus looked? Always beautiful, but especially now after all of the hard work by volunteers and Sweet Briar staff. As always, there were lots of boxes and bags carried in, furniture moved around, and mountains of discarded boxes outside every dorm.

Smiles were contagious; parents and daughters looked happy to be here. Unfortunately, on Sunday I could not be on campus, but I so enjoyed being there on Monday. Since my daughter was already moved in (as an equestrian, she moved in the previous weekend), I was blessed that I could just enjoy the day and help people feel welcome. In the morning, our dachshund Biscuit and I sat at the guard’s gate welcoming everyone back to campus. It was so heartwarming to see all those smiles coming through the gate!

I then got to sit in on President Stone’s “State-of-the-College” address. I’ve said it before, and I have to say it again: What an inspirational leader! He talked about how every single person on campus is important to Sweet Briar’s success; that he expects everyone to have positive attitudes and treat each other with kindness and respect (when’s the last time you heard any other college president say that in a speech?); that yes, there are some challenges ahead, but he is working on a four-year plan to bring the school back to financial viability including a balanced budget; that failure is not an option (right skills + right attitude + motivation = success!); and that honesty, transparency and listening to what the students, faculty, staff and parents have to say is his way of doing business.

There were bursts of raucous cheers of applause from the entire room multiple times during his speech. As I mingled afterward, I saw newfound joy and animation in faculty faces that had been demoralized in previous years; I felt the excitement in the room as small groups gathered to reconnect and discuss plans; I heard the motivation in everyone’s voices that they were going to do their part in making this year one of growth.

I watched as a shy student (must be new to Sweet Briar 🙂 waited to talk to President Stone, and although I could not hear the exchange, I could tell that she said something to President Stone, and his response was to ask her to sit down with him at a table, and they talked for at least 10 minutes. The student did more of the talking; President Stone did more listening.

President Stone greets students after his state-of-the-College address. Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan.
President Stone greets students after his state-of-the-College address. Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan.

And I heard the same from faculty — they feel like once again they have a voice that will be heard by their president, and that they truly can make a difference in Sweet Briar’s success. This man is the real deal, and his positive motivation has infected everyone I saw on Monday.

As my husband says, “Nobody wants to be on a losing team, and nobody wants to be a loser on a winning team.”

And with the new administration, you’re either on board, or you’re off the team — hallelujah. Sweet Briar’s success is not an “if,” but a “when.” I feel so very blessed to have my own (very tiny) part in helping.

The rest of Monday I walked around to meet parents and daughters, talked to reporters (one of whom was from WDBJ7; the Sweet Briar community grieves with the WDBJ7 community over the senseless killing of two of its reporters), and soaked in the beauty of Sweet Briar. As for the rest of the week, in true Sweet Briar spirit, there were ice cream socials, pizza parties, Opening Convocation, and even a carnival hosted by President Stone. The days before classes started provided lots of opportunities for new and returning students to meet and mingle, fun ways to reconnect with friends and meet more of their sisters.

Did you watch the Opening Convocation? If not, you can watch the recording here. I highly recommend viewing it; it will make your heart so happy, and if you didn’t have a good feel for what people mean by “the soul of Sweet Briar,” you will know after watching the convocation. What a glorious celebration, and such fabulous timing that it occurred the day after the previous regime had scheduled the school to close! I had happy tears.

Marcia Thom-Kaley’s Opening Convocation speech was especially poignant — and animated. Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan.

As you know, the students all started their classes Thursday, Aug. 27. Always a day full of both excitement and trepidation, but after several days of getting settled into their dorms, catching up with friends and starting new friendships, everyone was as ready as they can be to start a new school year, meet their professors and their classmates, and establish a rhythm for the semester. Don’t worry, many students take a week or two before they settle in, but in a few weeks, even new students will feel like they are home.

For those of you that I didn’t get to meet, I hope that your welcome to Sweet Briar felt warm and wonderful! I hope to meet you another time. If you’re like me, I’m thrilled that my daughter is at Sweet Briar, but I still miss her just a little. Hang in there, it will feel like normal soon, and your daughter is probably doing much better than you think. 🙂

What are YOUR concerns? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!


Coming home, all smiles

Wow, where did the summer go? I can’t believe that we just dropped off our daughter, Julia, last weekend! Julia is an equestrian, and equestrian team members were the first to arrive back to school so they could start getting the horses and equipment ready for the new season. So we packed up our cars and her horse, and down the road we went to Sweet Briar! We live in Northern Virginia, so the majority of our route is down U.S. 29, and what a beautiful drive it is. We had a nice sunny day for the trip. A stop at Effie’s along the way for a peach ice cream sundae for me and real milkshakes for Dennis and Julia (if you’ve never been and you like ice cream, Effie’s is a “must stop”!), and several hours later, we could all feel the excitement start mounting as first we saw mountains, then the sign for Amherst County — by the way, strictly adhere to the speed limit in Amherst County and be sure your daughter knows too — and then the sign for Sweet Briar.


Julia was bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement when we were still minutes away, with a smile so broad and full of joy it made my heart burst with happiness. She took pictures of the Sweet Briar College exit sign and video of the scenery. She could barely contain her excitement and joy as we came up the drive onto campus. Dennis and I, too, felt especially grateful. Our hearts swelled as we slowly rolled up the driveway, past the security gate and up to the equestrian center.

We were almost in tears because we thought when we left last semester that, although we would fight the school’s closure to the very end, it may have been our last drive down that beautiful entry road, our last visit to that impressive equestrian facility, and our last time seeing our daughter with her Sweet Briar sisters. But instead, here we were. Dennis and I both breathed a sigh of joy and relief and amazement that, yes, we were really bringing our daughter back to her (and our) beloved Sweet Briar! We were all impressed at how much work had been put into spiffing up the campus in such a short period of time – fresh paint on the entrance road (including the dip!), crisply mown expanses of lawn, a bubbling fountain, colorful tended gardens, and lots of fresh paint. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces if you tried. 🙂

It felt a little weird driving through campus because almost no one else had arrived yet. We had never seen the campus and parking lots so empty! First, we drove to the equestrian facility, found Lizzie Fisch (the IHSA team coach) and exchanged warm hugs and happy greetings that we were all back. Quest’s stall was ready and waiting for him, and he happily walked right in and made himself at home.

After tending to Quest’s needs and unloading horse stuff and trailer, it was on to the dorm. While we could only deposit Julia’s stuff in her room (equestrians are temporarily staying in another dorm for a few days while the main dorms are finished), it still gave us chills of happiness to carry those boxes to her room, and a sense of satisfaction after we finished that, yes, it was real, she was REALLY going back to Sweet Briar! And of course you always expect that when you pack you forget some things. So we all had a good laugh when Julia realized that, in addition to a few minor things, she had forgotten her pillows! No worries, we expected that we would be bringing down a few things next weekend, so I just added pillows to the list.

But if you live further away and have to mail a care package (of all the things your daughter forgot but you don’t want to re-purchase), no worries! The post office is still open and able to handle all of your packages. Returning students keep their previous P.O. Box; new students will get an email that includes their P.O. Box before arrival at school. For important tips on sending packages and luggage, click here.

If this is your daughter’s first time at Sweet Briar and if she won’t have a car on campus, you might plan on a visit to Lynchburg after your daughter moves in. Inevitably there will be items she forgot, or didn’t realize that she needed until move-in day, that make more sense to buy locally than to ship from home. We found Walmart and Target in Lynchburg (about 20 minutes away) to be very useful stores. 🙂

New students should have received an email this week that has their dorm room and roommate assignment and their P.O. Box number. If your daughter has not received hers yet, please contact Kerri Bond at (434) 381-6346 or By now I’m sure you know that move-in day is Monday, Aug. 24 for returning students. Other useful dates (for new and returning students) can be found on the Sweet Briar academic calendar (the “New Students Arrive” date is Aug. 23, but all of the other dates are correct).

Speaking of move-in day, I will be on campus on Monday to greet all of you parents! I will be walking around the dorms to greet people while they move in, and help you get answers to your questions. However, if I don’t happen to see you, just email me when you are on campus and have time to meet for a few minutes (if you include your phone number, that would be most helpful). I have my phone setup so that when I get an email in my inbox, I get a special sound, and if I’m on campus then we can coordinate where to meet. I’ll keep a close eye on my phone on Monday!

I look forward to meeting y’all, and if I can do anything to help you get answers to your questions while on campus, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Finally, in case you didn’t see it already, here is the latest message from President Stone:

“Making history at Sweet Briar! The entire nation has learned about Sweet Briar during the past months. At first it was for sad reasons — a decision to close. The tone of the stories then turned to what was thought to be a futile, even desperate, attempt by the alumnae, faculty, parents, students and others to prevent the closing. Then about the excitement of success, transition and rebirth! The stories are now more about the special qualities of Sweet Briar and how we are making history. We are leading the fight to reaffirm the value of small, independent liberal arts colleges and we are especially leading the charge for women’s education. All of you are part of this history-making experience. The whole nation is watching. Together we will be successful! I look forward to seeing all of you on campus soon.”

I’m so thrilled that you and we are part of making history at Sweet Briar, aren’t you?! How exciting it will be to see the campus full of life again! I hope that your daughter’s move-in goes smoothly; please let me know how it goes and any suggestions for improvement. And please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you need help. 🙂

That’s all for today. 🙂 What are YOUR concerns? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!

It’s starting to feel real

Hi everyone,

As you probably know, returning students have now passed several important milestones — Alumnae Angels have paid their deposit; students had a counseling session with their academic advisor, registered for fall classes, and requested and received their room assignments. Whew! If you’re like me, it really starts to feel real now that the activities needed to start school in the fall have occurred. (New incoming students, don’t worry, all of this will happen for you soon!)

Studying at Sweet Briar has always been hands-on ...
Back in the day, studying at Sweet Briar was hands-on …

Plus, since my daughter Julia is an equestrian and goes back to school Sunday evening or Monday (after going to a show), we are now doing the myriad tasks necessary for her to return. It will be an even more bittersweet moment this year when she leaves: a huge sigh of relief that she is returning to Sweet Briar along with the sadness that goes with knowing we will see her even less. I know that it is part of our daughter growing up, and I want her to be the strong, independent, amazing woman that Sweet Briar is helping her to become — but my heart still misses seeing my girl every day.

Speaking of classes, are you comfortable with your daughter’s academic plan? Did she get all the classes she needs this semester? One of the many things that attracted our family to Sweet Briar was the school’s willingness to customize each girl’s education experience to help her best meet her goals. This remains so true now more than ever! My daughter is a rising sophomore and, of course, was worried that she wouldn’t get in all of the classes she needs (and as a pre-vet student, she has a very tight four-year plan to complete all of her required classes to graduate on time). But no problem — she got all the classes she needs!

From what I’ve been hearing so far, this seems to be the case for everyone. I know that the new leadership team is doing whatever it takes to ensure every student gets what she needs. If you have concerns about your daughter’s classes, please be sure she reaches out to her academic advisor first. Then you can reach out as well if you still have questions or concerns. If I can do anything to help facilitate or find someone for you, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Talking about classes makes me also remember another reason we love Sweet Briar — it is such a hands-on, experiential learning environment. You probably know from experience that you learn more and remember more from doing something than from just hearing about it. Plus, what really matters after all of this education is whether they can apply what they learn to the real world. So what do I mean by experiential learning? Just a couple of examples:

  • Last year, first-year engineering students used a 3-D printer for class projects; at most other schools, you don’t get that experience until junior or senior year.
  • My daughter, a biology and chemistry double major, used a scanning electron microscope multiple times for her experiments last year as a first-year. Many schools don’t even have one.
... and it still is.
… and it still is.

I could go on with more examples, but you get the point: Sweet Briar provides a personal, hands-on learning environment that you find at very few schools in this country.

A few other random things I wanted to be sure you have heard about:

  • How wonderful that our new president and board of directors are “walking the walk” of transparency by providing updates from their meetings? You can find these either in the Vixen Watch (see below) or at the board of directors website. For more information on what’s been accomplished see this story on the College’s news page.
  • Did you see how many alums have been coming to Sweet Briar these past three weeks to help get the school ready to open?! Wow, I am so impressed and grateful!
  • Do you purchase from There is a very easy way to contribute to Saving Sweet Briar — sign up with Amazon Smiles ( and 0.5 percent of your purchases will go to Saving Sweet Briar!
  • How exciting to be recognized recently as the small college winner in Forbes #MyTopCollege contest!
  • Did you know that you can subscribe to something called Vixen Watch that provides updates about topics of interest to Sweet Briar students, parents and alums? You can follow it on Facebook, or go to and click on the “Follow” link in the lower right corner to enter your email address for updates.
  • Did you know that professor Claudia Chang is conducting a newspaper contest for students called “Why I Chose Sweet Briar”? You can find out more information from Claudia at Deadline for submission is Aug. 15. Please encourage your daughter to write a submission!

That’s all for today. 🙂 Next week I’ll let you know how we can meet when you bring your daughter to school.

What are YOUR concerns? Send them to me at, and I’ll address them in upcoming posts, or sooner if needed. Until then, talk to you soon!