The commencement ceremony Saturday at Virginia’s Sweet Briar College could have been heartbreaking and emotional, given that the 114-year-old women’s college is set to close its doors for good.
But the commencement speaker, Columbus, Georgia mayor Teresa Tomlinson, instead encouraged graduates to find ways to halt the closure plans. She implied the class of 2015 would be the latest group to graduate — not the last.
That message bolstered the morale for graduating seniors after a somber few weeks.
“I was given an even greater hope that my alma mater can be saved,” Leah Humenuck, a graduating senior, told Business Insider.
She said she could have received no better words to propel her forward into the world, and that the mayor’s words will stay with her forever.
Another senior, Suri Xia, echoed these sentiments, though she arguably had reason to approach the ceremony with bitterness.
Xia studied abroad in Germany her junior year, but Sweet Briar cut the German department while she was overseas, so it didn’t accept her study-abroad credits. That left Xia nine credits shy of graduation.
Initially, she planned to take an extra semester to graduate to make up for the credits, which would have meant completing her degree in December.
But the sudden announcement of Sweet Briar’s closing in the spring blindsided the senior, causing additional complications because as a foreign student, Xia would lose her student visa.
She scrambled and was able to transfer to Mount Holyoke, a different women’s college where she will attend in the fall.
Nonetheless, Xia attended the commencement ceremony at Sweet Briar. She radiated positivity when speaking about the graduation, telling Business Insider that the mayor’s speech was absolutely inspiring and that she was so grateful for the opportunity to study at Sweet Briar.
And she felt empowered by the mayor’s message about the importance for single-sex educations. Xia said she’s had to defend her decision to attend Sweet Briar in the past, but Tomlinson told the world precisely why women’s colleges were still so relevant.
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