President addresses state of the College

President Stone speaks to the entire campus community on Monday, Aug. 24. Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan.
President Stone speaks to the entire campus community on Monday, Aug. 24. Photo by Meridith De Avila Khan.

Members of the Class of 2019 officially heard from Sweet Briar President Phil Stone for the first time Monday, Aug. 24, at a community meeting in Prothro Dining Room. A number of returning students, parents, faculty and staff also crowded into the room to hear his inaugural state-of-the-College address.

This was no ordinary state-of-the-college speech and it could be argued that 2019 is no ordinary class. You might call them small but mighty — the “Mighty 19s” a group of them would chant in unison later in the day during a “Learning on the Land” orientation session. These young women have already made history by choosing to come to Sweet Briar.

The 114-year-old school was slated to close on Aug. 25, 2015. A heroic effort led largely by the alumnae group Saving Sweet Briar forced a court settlement on June 23 to keep it open. A lot has changed since then.

Stone began the meeting by introducing the new senior administrators who make up his president’s council and by recognizing Saving Sweet Briar. He called attention to the new faces among faculty and staff hired to replace some of those who left as a result of the planned closing. On the day he took office on July 2, he said, 40 percent of staff and 45 percent of faculty were gone, although some would return.

Citing rapid progress, he said staffing the administration, securing signature programs such as riding and study abroad, and replacing food services all were achieved quickly.

“We were ready to go twenty-one days after we started and I’m pretty proud of that,” he said.

The College also has recruited, as of the board retreat that concluded Saturday, 248 on-campus students and 80 study abroad students, he said. He briefly recapped the board meeting agenda, which included a discussion of governance led by Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

He also reported that while there’d been some early concern that Sweet Briar would lose membership in the NCAA and Old Dominion Athletic Conference, neither had come to pass. The Division III Vixens remain ODAC members but will not play full schedules — meaning for this year, conference games won’t count in the standings.

In his remarks, the president acknowledged significant challenges lie ahead for Sweet Briar, including balancing the budget and halving the draw on the endowment. To do that, he projects the College needs to grow to 800 students in the next several years.

Such strides will take the entire community working together to achieve, he said. Everyone.

“Students, bring your friends. Don’t bring any guys, but bring your friends,” he said, laughing, before turning more serious.

“When it’s all said and done, you will be like our graduates who said, ‘We will save our school.’ Something happens here that made these women this way. Leaders. People who do the impossible.”

Stone took several questions and thanked his audience for their attention. As the applause faded for the last time, the students broke into an especially boisterous rendition of Sweet Briar’s now-famous cheer: “So here’s to President Stone, holla, holla, holla, nothing that you cannot do.”