Since it was recently announced that my alma mater, Sweet Briar College, intends to close it’s doors at the end of the current semester, alumnae have rallied to save the school, many of them sharing their personal stories of why they chose to attend Sweet Briar and what Sweet Briar did for them. There are so many inspiring stories from former and current students, parents, professors and friends of the college. The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming and in many ways apparently long overdue.
I’ve been struggling the last few days to craft a post that would be a wonderful telling of my personal story of salvation through some transformative experience during my time at Sweet Briar. I wish I could find the words to adequately express what it meant to me and how it was so unique that everyone should want to have the same thing happen to them. This should easily pour forth from my keyboard, but it doesn’t. I’ve drafted at least three pieces and all of them are missing that thing that makes them shine; that burning epiphany that reveals the foundation for every success after it. I can’t write anything to illuminate just how special this place is.
I wanted so desperately to write this piece and make it sing so loudly that people would rally around it and it would save Sweet Briar from its impending closure. Yet, I can’t. I’ve tried and I just can’t make the words appear. My desperation culminated into an ugly cry that has been years in the making. When it finally subsided I had very puffy eyes and intense clarity. I can’t write that post because I didn’t have that experience.
Many people go to college and have eye-opening, life-changing experiences. They are put in situations they would not find themselves in at home. They learn how to do laundry, keep up with their homework, live away from home, explore the world and more. I did all of that before I graduated high school because I went to boarding school. We even had crazy traditions with hats and songs and banquets. My experience really isn’t all that rare either, nor is it actually limited to boarding schools. All the girls I went to school with and all the girls and boys from other boarding schools and some private schools go into college with similar experience in these things. Sometimes I wonder if this cheated some of us out of a few things in college.
Even when I was at Sweet Briar, the pull was not that strong for me. I did meet some amazing people and had some really great times, but I honestly couldn’t wait to graduate and get out of there. I still keep in touch with a few people today, but I don’t feel an inescapable pull back “home.” I don’t wear our school colors all the time or my class ring. I’ve never been to a reunion. I don’t know past the first few lines of the “Holla! Holla!” song and I don’t keep in touch with my professors. I’ve never felt that deeply visceral connection some people have with their alma mater and it mystifies my fellow alumnae.
When I heard the school was closing, I was not expecting the wave of emotion that took hold of me. It was a full force punch in the gut. I cried at my desk as I watched that man tell me there would be no more Sweet Briar College. I felt like something had been ripped from inside me and I couldn’t breathe. As soon as I got home, I dug my ring out and crammed it on my pinky. I had to hold back tears as I put my daughter into her favorite pajamas, Hello Kitty in pink and green, our school colors.
I stayed up all night watching Twitter and Facebook ignite with expressions of all the feelings I suddenly had: betrayal, confusion, denial, anger, pride, and hope; most of all hope. I couldn’t focus the next day and found myself swept into the cause tweeting every piece of news and support I could find or think of. We will save this place if it’s the last thing we do!
Now we’re a week into the fight and I’m still struggling to pinpoint exactly what it is about this place that makes it so worthy of saving. Everything I write, I could easily write about any other school. There are so many things about Sweet Briar that I know are worth this struggle. Then I started to wonder if maybe that thing I can’t name is exactly what makes it worth saving. Maybe it’s that unnamable thing that makes someone who failed to fully appreciate it at the time, clamor to do whatever she can to make sure that place is open for her daughter. Maybe it doesn’t need some clever, unbelievably important reason to exist, beyond that it does need to exist.
Those buildings need to be full of bright, talented students flourishing with the encouragement and tutelage of our incredible faculty. Our faculty need to spread the love of their chosen fields and foster future leaders. The surrounding towns need to have the income the school ultimately brings to them, through their shops, restaurants and services. The alumnae need a home to cherish, come back to and dream of sending their daughters. The campus is part of an established community and has been for over 100 years. It’s been creating its own solid community for just as long.
Perhaps it needs simply to be what it is, what it always has been. Sweet Briar College. An outstanding academic option offering quality education in a single-sex environment for women who feel at home in a picturesque, semi-rural environment.
Isn’t that enough?