Sweet Briar College President Meredith Woo, former dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, addressed about 2,000 third-year students and their families last Friday on the topic of leadership. The third-year class invited her to be the keynote speaker for their formal Third Year Ceremony, a tradition that started in 1998 according to Wayne Cozart, vice president for development at the UVa Alumni Association, to celebrate the tradition of the class ring.
Student Todd Kirk (UVa ’20) shared that the students selected President Woo because they wanted a “strong academic leader who knew a little something about the Wahoo life. Dr. Woo fit that bill perfectly,” he said.
Woo presented the question: What constitutes good — even great — leadership? She reflected on the importance of collegial leadership, sharing the perspective of Max Weber (1864-1920), a German sociologist, philosopher and political economist. She emphasized his three requirements for political leadership: passion, accountability and sense of proportion.
“You will go on to be critical leaders in our society,” she encouraged. “It will require both the passion with which to try the impossible and perspective. Without perspective or sense of proportion, leadership is dangerous. Developing a sense of proportion is easier said than done, but you can develop a sense of proportion through an education like the one delivered at UVa, especially through the liberal arts, along with experience.”
As president of Sweet Briar College — a small liberal arts college just south of Charlottesville, with a long history of graduating women leaders long before UVa began admitting women in 1970 — Woo knows what she is talking about. Her address was well received by the audience, which included some supportive Sweet Briar alumnae who live locally.