Sweet Briar College will hold what is likely its last ever graduation ceremony this weekend — but the school’s president won’t be there.
Ever since the college’s leadership abruptly announced in March that the school would close following the current semester, Sweet Briar president James F. Jones has been a controversial figure. Many students and faculty seem to blame him for closing the beloved 114-year-old women’s college in Virginia.
“In the last twenty-four hours, 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, despite the fact that my doing so would honour the College’s tradition to preside as have all other Sweet Briar presidents,” Jones said in a statement announcing that he would not be attending Saturday’s ceremony.
Jones met with the college’s seniors Friday to share the news with them in person, according to a Sweet Briar spokesperson.
The following message was sent out this morning to students, faculty, staff, and the parents of graduating seniors:
Dear Members of the Sweet Briar Community:
After much deliberation and consultation with members of the campus community, I write with great sadness to tell you that I have reluctantly decided not to participate in Saturday’s commencement ceremony. In the last twenty-four hours, 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, despite the fact that my doing so would honour the College’s tradition to preside as have all other Sweet Briar presidents.
I was deeply moved by the senior class officers’ call on May 1 for a peaceful, traditional, and joyful ceremony, and while this year is like no other in Sweet Briar’s history, I had sincerely hoped their wish would be honored. I am also confident that the vast majority of our alumnae and our faculty share my belief that commencement is solely about celebrating our graduating students and their families. Yet, I have made this decision because I do not want anything to distract from what should be a celebration of our students’ academic success. Dean Amy Jessen-Marshall has graciously agreed to preside over commencement in my absence.
To those students who had wanted me to present them their diplomas, please know how deeply sorry and disappointed I am. I will, however, still participate in baccalaureate this afternoon, and I look forward to visiting with you and your families at the reception immediately following the service on the lawns of Sweet Briar House.
To the Class of 2015, I send you my heartfelt congratulations on this milestone in your life. Wherever life’s path leads you, I wish you a happy and successful future. I know that you will make us all proud and that you will always be honorable Sweet Briar women in thought, word, and deed in your adult lives. Please never hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance to you in the years to come.
Yours very truly,
James F. Jones Jr. President, Sweet Briar College
President Emeritus, Trinity College
President Emeritus, Kalamazoo College
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