For many, it didn’t come as a surprise when the Presidential Medalist was announced at yesterday’s Awards Convocation. After all, Spencer Beall has been making a name for herself practically from the minute she stepped foot on campus four years ago.
For Beall, it was a magical moment.
“Receiving the Presidential Medal is an honor that I only could dream about ever since my freshman year, when I saw Kathryn Alexander receive it,” she said. “I was so filled with awe and inspiration, and I hoped with all of my heart that someday, I could be her.”
The Presidential Medal, a replica of the medal of office worn by President Jo Ellen Parker on ceremonial occasions, is the highest all-around student honor at Sweet Briar and is given each year to a graduating senior who represents the full range of the College’s educational values. It recognizes intellectual achievement in addition to distinction in some combination of community service; the arts; global awareness; fitness and athletic achievement; and leadership, civility and integrity.
When President Parker announced the 2014 award, Beall’s “heart froze” and she could “hardly breathe,” says the Ashburn, Virginia, native.
“As if in a fairytale, I have become the woman I have always wanted to be. I now know why Cinderella felt so great.”
A former Pannell Scholar and Honors Summer Research fellow, Beall will graduate next week with a triple major in French, history and art history and a minor in medieval and Renaissance studies. Her Senior Honors Thesis is written in French and fills 119 pages — not a big deal for her, considering the Apple iBook she published last spring with her French professor and mentor Marie-Thérèse Killiam. To add yet another honor to her resume, Beall was the first recipient of the Virginia Collegiate Honors Council’s Honors Scholar of the Year Award, which was given out in April of this year.
The Presidential Medal follows various departmental awards and her induction into Phi Beta Kappa, as well Nu Mu, the Sweet Briar chapter of Pi Delta Phi, the National Collegiate French Honor Society.
Beall says she always knew Sweet Briar would be the perfect place for her.
“I was never more delirious with happiness than when I received my acceptance letter in the mail,” she said. “I will remember that day for the rest of my life.”
And for someone who was part of the Academic Competition team, the French Club and the National Honors Society in high school, it’s not surprising Sweet Briar did in fact prove to be a great fit. In addition to combining all of her passions in a comprehensive course of study, Beall served on the Academic Affairs Committee and was a member of the French and medieval and Renaissance studies clubs. She also worked in the admission office all four years, first as an office assistant and docent, then as the co-ambassador chairwoman.
Among numerous nominations, Beall received praise from a professor who called her “one of the paragons of what Sweet Briar stands for.” Beall, the nomination continues, was “academically accomplished, intellectually motivated, fearless in seeking out opportunities and at the center of an intellectually inspired social life on campus.”
The professor particularly remembers Beall from a first-year honors seminar in 2011.
“She was … the ideal first-year student, trying to figure out how to evaluate her own ideas and preconceptions against very challenging new ones … Spencer stood out — and also stood out over the next three years, as she continued to come talk to me about what she was studying, her ambitions and her plans.”
Another faculty member’s endorsement is equally as enthusiastic.
“It is no exaggeration on my part when I say that she is an exceptional young woman and one of the very best students Sweet Briar has ever seen,” the nomination letter states, adding that Beall also made a lasting impression on her French teachers while studying abroad at the Sorbonne.
While praising Beall’s academic achievements, the professor made sure to point out her personal qualities, as well.
“Anyone who knows Spencer also knows that she is a genuinely good person, compassionate and generous, and that wearing pearls in her case is more than a Sweet Briar tradition … [She] is, truly, the rare pearl of Sweet Briar.”