Sweet Briar College senior Spencer Beall is the first recipient of the Virginia Collegiate Honors Council’s Honors Scholar of the Year Award. Beall will accept the award at the council’s spring conference, which takes place April 4-5 at Virginia State University.
According to the VCHC, the award honors “a student from a member institution that successfully embodies the scholarship, character, and ambition associated historically with honors students and the VCHC.”
Associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Sweet Briar College Honors Program Jill Granger said the council told her “the award was very competitive, but that Spencer’s application won them over.”
Granger co-wrote Beall’s recommendation, which draws from comments made by French professor Marie-Thérèse Killiam and other faculty, praising Beall as “one of the best French students to have come through Sweet Briar in many years.”
The letter continues to say that “[her] interest in French art historical scholarship, and her ability to link aesthetics with social and political transformations is both sophisticated and innovative, with research questions that have the complexity and depth of a graduate dissertation proposal.”
As part of the application, students were also asked to submit a personal narrative addressing the question, “What does it mean to be an honors student and part of an academic learning community?”
In her essay, Beall wrote about Sweet Briar’s motto “She who has earned the rose may bear it,” relating it to her experience in the Honors Program.
“When I first joined the program four years ago, I thought that I was pursuing an even stronger path to earning the Sweet Briar rose,” the essay reads. “As my future unfolded, however, I realized that being part of the Honors Program had already given me a special kind of rose, a compass rose, which led me to a vast network of scholarly paths that I had not been aware of.”
Beall said she was “overjoyed” when Granger called with the good news.
“[It is] definitely the greatest honor that I have received,” she said. “For me, it is the most special privilege to be able to represent Sweet Briar’s Honors Program.”
Beall, an Ashburn, Va., native who will graduate in May with a triple major in French, history and art history and a minor in medieval and Renaissance studies, recently completed her senior honors thesis on the history of the modern museum and its culture. The paper is written in French and totals about 119 pages — not a big deal for someone who has already co-published an entire book.
Last year, Beall completed a project she had started during freshman year with Killiam, her professor and mentor, and continued in 2012 as an Honors Summer Research student — selecting and translating art commentaries by influential French writers such as Charles Baudelaire and Marcel Proust. “Painting With Words: Writers’ Transpositions of Masterpieces into Art” was released as an Apple iBook in March 2013. The book will be used as a resource in Sweet Briar classes next year.
To Beall, the project marked “an ultimate highlight” of her time at Sweet Briar — second only to her Junior Year in France at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she enrolled in master’s-level classes in history and art history.
“I fell even more deeply in love with the French culture and French scholarship, and it has motivated me even more to nourish my passion for the French language, as well as history and art history,” she said.
After graduation, Beall wants to pursue a doctorate in art history and hopes to someday work as a museum curator and researcher.
“My goal of all goals is to be able to work as a curator in France at the Château de Versailles, which would also allow me to carry out my long-awaited dream of researching the historic decorative hamlets (les hameaux) at Petit Trianon and other estates in the Île-de-France region.”