Jill Gavitt ’97 paints during Sweet Work Weeks 2017 at Sweet Briar.
Traditions are among the most beloved parts of the Sweet Briar experience. Every college has academics, residence life, sports and clubs, but Sweet Briar has some of the quirkiest traditions
that you can never quite explain to an outsider. Each current student and alumna can wax poetic for hours about the traditions they love the most. (I know I can!) These traditions keep us bonded to each other and to the College. They lift our spirits and they make us laugh, and they remind us how lucky we are to be learning in such a unique place. But, once you leave the College, how do you keep the spirit of those traditions alive? Like other colleges, we have Reunion for the alumnae; it’s a fantastic event that gives us all the chance to reconnect.
But Sweet Briar has never been content to just simply do what other colleges do.
Recently, Sweet Briar alumnae have fiercely embraced a new tradition. For the last five summers, we have come together for Sweet Work Weeks
to help the College staff prepare campus for the new school year. Like all Sweet Briar traditions, SWW is quirky and fun, and it eludes explanation to the uninitiated. It is an opportunity for alumnae and other friends of the College to volunteer their labor to the land and institution that Indiana Fletcher Williams entrusted to us. But that’s just what it is on paper.
Classmates Jill Gavitt (left) and Katie Clarkson Robertson during Sweet Work Weeks 2019 at Sweet Briar
I have been on campus for the last three years for these sessions and am constantly asked why I would do this. Why do I (especially as a teacher busy starting a new school year) give my precious free time to go and work at my college?
Because here, work is play. There are tasks we need to accomplish — from clearing overgrown back trails to weeding the campus to painting all the dorm rooms to contacting future Vixens. And the list might seem onerous, especially when you’re working in the August heat, yet surrounded by these alumnae, I never worry that the day will be dull.
Because Vixen alumnae are the best company. I spend each day having conversations about topics all over the map with alumnae from all different classes. I can start my morning with a debate on the finer points of the perfect chocolate croissant and move on to discussing the best way to prevent poison ivy, the books we’ve read lately, and the environmental impact of single-use plastics. One of my last evenings was spent in the parlor of Randolph [Hall] talking politics while decorating T-shirts for a dear (and sassy) alumna, and this was just before my classmate came in and, with her killer fast-pitch precision, threw me the candy I was craving. The night ended with hugs all around before we dragged ourselves to bed — mine being in the same room I occupied my senior year.
Because every part of Sweet Briar feels like home — from the dorm rooms to the dining hall to the pathways to the academic buildings. I moved around often after I graduated, but this campus has always served as a beacon. Coming here to spend time for Sweet Work Weeks only solidifies that bond. We take pride in helping to ready this spectacular campus for student arrivals so that they, too, may pull off of U.S. 29 and feel like they are home. When I am volunteering here, I once again remember why Sweet Briar is so unique and so special for all of us.
So why do we give our free time to the College? Because it’s a tradition.
Jill Gavitt graduated in 1997 with a Spanish major, a dance performance minor and a teaching certificate. She is originally from Rhode Island and currently teaches high school Spanish in Staunton, Va.