2009 Presidential Medal goes to scholar, athlete, leader

Posted on March 26, 2009 by Jennifer McManamay

Like an exercise in free association, the conversation at table 17 during Sweet Briar’s Academic Recognition Dinner in Prothro on March 25 ping-ponged every which way.

Senior Emma Meador’s post-spring break panic over her honors thesis led to an exploration of the word’s origin — it’s from the god Pan, said Eric Casey, associate professor of classics. An exchange about word processors that presume too much became a defense of passive voice and long sentences.

Casey had that one covered, too. “Long sentences were okay for Cicero, and he wasn’t known as a bad writer.”

At Megan Behrle’s table, they were guessing who would receive the Presidential Medal, Sweet Briar College’s highest all-around honor. So it was a shock and an honor when Behrle realized it was her, she said.

The Presidential Medal is given to a senior or seniors who have demonstrated exemplary intellectual achievement in addition to distinction in some or all of the following areas: service to the community, contributions to the arts, enlargement of the College’s global perspective, athletic fitness and achievement, leadership and contributions to the community discourse.

President Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, who will retire in June after 13 years in the office, announced the winner for the last time. The 2009 recipient, she noted, is a scholar, an athlete and a campus leader.

Behrle will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs with a concentration in Asian studies, a second major in economics and a minor in environmental studies. She also will receive the Leadership Certificate at graduation.

Among her previous honors at Sweet Briar, she is a Commonwealth Scholar and an Irene Mitchell Moore Scholar; a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Omicron Delta Epsilon and Omicron Delta Kappa; a perennial dean’s list student; and 2007 recipient of the Mary MacKintosh Sherer Award.

Behrle also earned the Whiteman Scholar Athlete award recognizing an athlete with a high scholastic average for sportsmanship and outstanding achievement in sport. She was on the Virginia Sports Information Directors All-State Academic Team for Field Hockey and the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division III National Academic Field Hockey team. She was this year’s varsity field hockey team captain at Sweet Briar, and despite a serious injury mid-season, was ready to play varsity lacrosse this spring.

Behrle spent a semester studying international law and organizations at the American University in Washington, and did a summer internship with the U.S. Navy at the operations department of the NAVSEA Warfare Center.

She is president of Amnesty International at Sweet Briar and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, chair of the Senior Class Campaign and Judicial Committee, secretary of the Alumnae Student Relations Committee, vice president of Young Democrats, and active in the Environmental Club and Sweet Spirits.

She also works three jobs on campus, as an athletic facility student assistant, an intern in development and a tour guide for the admissions office.

Behrle, who came to Sweet Briar knowing she would major in international affairs, was driven before she arrived. Still, she said, the faculty and staff, other students and she herself pushed her further, helping her exceed her expectations of college.

“All of my professors, especially Dr. Bakich, Dr. Gotwalt and Dr. Alexander challenged me to reach beyond my intellectual boundaries, inspiring me to actively engage in my coursework,” she said.

The Academic Recognition Dinner also honors the 2008 dean’s list students from the classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011, as well as first-year students who achieved honors during the fall semester of 2008. The students are invited to attend, along with numerous faculty and staff.

Each year, Jonathan Green, dean of the College, offers some remarks to the assembly. On Wednesday, he invoked Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 speech, “The American Scholar.” With apologies for its “inherently misogynist tone,” he said the forward-looking essay was a call to action that has transformed liberal education more than any other force.

Emerson, Green noted, laid out the duties of the scholar, quoting: ” ‘The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. … He is the world’s eye. He is the world’s heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history.’ “

Amid the “rhetoric of hope” heard so much of late, Green said, “Hope’s greatest prophet is the ‘New American Scholar,’ and as such I urge you to embrace your work fervently and through it ‘to cheer, to raise, and to guide’ us to a better future.”