Sweet Briar’s 102nd session commenced Wednesday, Aug. 23 during the 2007 Opening Convocation in Murchison Lane Auditorium.
In the first formal assembly of the new academic year, students, faculty and staff welcomed the Class of 2011, new members of the faculty and two Fulbright scholars. Twenty-three returning students also were recognized for scholastic achievements, several of them in absentia because they are studying abroad or at other U.S. colleges.
“The lesson the Class of 2011 can learn here,” said Dean Jonathan Green, pausing from reading the names, “is that if you want to earn scholarship awards, plan to study abroad.”
His impromptu aside followed prepared, more pointed remarks containing a perennial message to experience everything college offers.
“You will be invited to hundreds of dreadful parties thrown by troglodytic frat boys during your college career, but this fall best-selling author Michael Pollan will be speaking here once, and you should plan to attend.”
The same goes for daily interactions with the people one finds on college campuses. “You probably will never have as many readily available venues for truly meaningful discourse again,” Green said.
Green also counseled the students to embrace reason and science. He speculated that throughout human history, anti-intellectualism has encouraged people – including leaders in the public sphere – to make bad choices. “The fact that any member of your generation smokes is proof that many of us are willing to reject empirical reasoning in our decision making,” he said.
Green introduced the keynote speaker, but not before ending his remarks with a nod to faculty and staff. Noting that SBC is ranked the nation’s most beautiful campus in the 2008 Princeton Review, he said it’s not just a beautiful-looking place. “This college’s beauty comes from the goodness, generosity and talent of its people.”
And with that, he welcomed new faculty and students to be part of it.
Following tradition, the recipient of the 2007 Excellence in Teaching Award – given each year by the student body during commencement – delivered the keynote address. Assistant professor of psychology Dan Gottlieb chose to match his words to his outfit, meaning the full academic regalia he and his colleagues don for ceremonial occasions.
“I’m going to preach to you about the absurd,” Gottlieb said.
The variously styled and color-coded gowns, hoods and caps denote levels of education and disciplines of learning, but they are, nonetheless, arbitrary, he suggested.
“The absurdity here isn’t just that we make distinctions with dress, but also that we have chosen this particular style amid all the possibilities,” he said, alluding to myriad and seemingly random realities that confront college students.
Among the realities are general education requirements. “There’s meaning there, really,” he assured his young listeners.
Sweet Briar has its own, singular peculiarities, he said, “like the way in which the [biology department’s] oddly prolific chameleons eat, the sudden influx of ladybugs to dorms and classrooms in the fall … Dr. Loboschefski’s raptor call, an impressive impersonation of a long extinct bird-reptile beast.”
When faced with such absurdities as Loboschefski’s raptor call, you can be amused or annoyed or you can “listen to Julio Cortazar, who wrote, ‘Only by living absurdly is it possible to break out of this infinite absurdity,’ ” Gottlieb said.
He recommended letting oneself be amazed by it all and in conclusion said, “Welcome to the wonderful absurdity that is college.”
The following academic awards were presented to returning students at convocation:
The Emilie Watts McVea Scholars
(Awarded to the highest-ranking member of each class)
Mary Spears Dance ’08
Sarah Byrd Hall 09
Jennifer Marie Angelucci ’10
The Alumna Daughter Scholarship
(Awarded to an alumna daughter who has demonstrated the traditions of sound learning and social responsibility)
Mary Patrick Jones ’09
The Mary Kendrick Benedict Scholars
(Awarded to one or more upper-class students in recognition of high academic standing and personal integrity)
Kristin Marie Chapdelaine ’08
Rebecca Helen Penny ’08
The Jean Besselievre Boley Award
(Awarded to the student submitting the best short story in the annual competition.)
Julia Katherine Patt ’09
The Laura Buckham Book Award
(Awarded to one or more rising juniors for excellence in French)
Katharine Lily Fish ’09
Sarah Byrd Hall ’09
The Julia Sadler De Coligny Award
(Awarded to outstanding majors in music or English in alternate years)
Kathryn Elisabeth Whittemore ’08
The Gill Scholars
(Awarded to rising juniors or seniors for achievements in the environmental sciences or studies program and for interest in protecting the environment)
Sarah Margaret Doyle ’09
Megan Cathreen Maloney ’09
The Hapala Scholar
(Awarded to a junior majoring in international affairs or government who wishes to study in the Czech Republic)
Jennie Kelsey Frazier ’09
The Kenmore Scholar
(Awarded to a student who has maintained a 3.3 grade-point average and who is recognized by the faculty of the government program for academic excellence)
Julia Kathleen McClung ’09
The Manson Scholar
(Awarded to an upper-class student of high academic standing who shows qualities of leadership and who makes a constructive contribution to student life)
Mary Katherine Tipton ’08
The Jean Taylor Meyer Memorial American Poets Prize
(Awarded for outstanding achievement in poetry)
Jessica Marie Baker ’09
The Irene Mitchell Moore Scholar
(Awarded to a student who intends to pursue a career in public service with a goal of fostering the habits of effective citizenship engagement)
Jennifer Lynn Lundy ’10
The Rickards Scholars
(Awarded to one or more rising sophomores who best demonstrate potential for leadership, academic excellence and community involvement)
Carlisle Gibbes Adams ’10
Madeline Adelle Davis ’10
The Shakespeare Prize
(Awarded to a student who distinguishes herself in the field of English)
Caroline Anne Sapp ’09
The Sweet Briar Fine Arts Scholar
(Awarded to a senior who best demonstrates great promise as an artist and a scholar)
Alyson Grace Napier ’08
The Mary Mackintosh Sherer Award
(Awarded to a rising junior who is a leader and a scholar and who demonstrates the outgoing and cheerful qualities associated with Mary Mackintosh Sherer)
Megan Elizabeth Behrle ’09
The Loren Oliver Award
(Awarded to a senior studio art student who excels in creative productivity and promise)
Melissa Hardison ’08