At Sweet Briar, a Commencement Talk With Power

May 18, 2015

Sweet Briar College's commencement on Saturday was sure to be notable, given that the college's board plans to shut the institution down in the next few months. The day before commencement, James F. Jones Jr., the president, announced that he would be skipping the ceremony, with regret, because, he said in an email to the campus, "It has come to my attention that there are faculty members and alumnae who have threatened, sometimes quite publicly, to repeatedly disrupt the ceremony tomorrow should I preside."

On Saturday, the commencement address was given by Teresa Tomlinson, an alumna who is mayor of Columbus, Ga. Tomlinson spoke about how valuable her liberal arts education at Sweet Briar has been to her life and career. And she decried "false narratives" about the future of women's colleges, liberal arts colleges and rural colleges. She cited Winston Churchill's World War II "Never Give In" speech at the Harrow School and urged the graduates and others to push hard for Sweet Briar's survival.

Toward the end of her speech, she addressed the administrators and trustees who came up with the plan to close: "As to those who have led us to this regrettable point, let us endeavor to forgive them. Forgive their lack of transparency, their lack of inclusiveness, their lack of perseverance and their failure of faith, because, truly, they know not what they have done.”

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