Hundreds gathered on campus during Reunion Weekend to celebrate Sweet Briar College and two particularly amazing alumnae.
Posted on June 09, 2023
More than 500 alumnae, family members, and guests attended this year’s Reunion Weekend, which celebrated the classes ending in three and eight. Sweet Briar College alumnae came from four countries, 36 states, and 32 different class years, including nine members of the Class of 1958. The weekend was filled with activities like floats at the Boathouse, riding at the equestrian center, a wine tasting featuring Sweet Briar wine, Alumnae College sessions, dancing the night away, a service of remembrance, reconnecting with old friends, and forging new friendships among the alumnae network.
Reunion is also the occasion to recognize alumnae leaders and celebrate individual alumnae contributions to the College and their greater community. Each year we present the Outstanding Alumna Award and the Distinguished Alumna Award.
The Outstanding Alumna Award is presented to a graduate alumna who has been out of college for at least 15 years and has contributed outstanding service to Sweet Briar College in a volunteer capacity. The 2023 Outstanding Alumna Award was presented to Suzanne Stryker Ullrich ’78.
Suzanne has volunteered as a class leader for Sweet Briar since she graduated. She is a club leader, hosting many events at her home, has helped with career services and networking, and is a terrific class secretary, always making sure to get all of her classmates’ news in on time. She also has served as an admissions ambassador, taking informational packets to high schools and meeting with prospective students. Recently, when admissions needed representation at an important national college fair, Suzanne drove five hours each way and stayed two days to represent Sweet Briar – and brought back 81 prospective student cards! She is the epitome of Sweet Briar’s special brand of servant leadership.
Suzanne says, “Not too long ago we were all called to task, and because of that we are still here today! We all came to realize that everything needs to be nurtured along: friendships, relationships, children–both two- and four-legged–and our Sweet Briar in every aspect. It takes time, effort, diligence, maintenance, funding, and persistence for all of these to flourish. And it is truly a team effort. Being involved, on any number of levels, (especially with my fantastic class!) has been some of the greatest joys for me through the years! It brings both excitement, and sometimes sadness, when it is time to write the class notes. Seeing the exuberant high school students at college fairs keeps you in touch with what is really going through the minds of today’s youth, as well as what is going on here at campus. Gathering with friends at club events keeps the bonds between us strong. I encourage everyone to remember what Sweet Briar meant to us while we were here in our own youth, and help nurture not only each other, but the next generation of strong, ‘forces-to-be reckoned with’ women who will also call Sweet Briar College their alma mater! You won’t regret it!”
The Distinguished Alumna Award recognizes alumnae who have brought distinction to themselves and to Sweet Briar College through outstanding accomplishments in a professional or volunteer capacity. The 2023 Distinguished Alumna Award was presented to Laura Lee Brown ’63.
Laura Lee is an accomplished philanthropist, preservationist, and businesswoman. As a philanthropist, Laura Lee has made a significant impact in the areas of education, arts and culture, and environmental preservation. Along with her husband, Steve Wilson, she founded 21c Museum Hotels, which showcase curated contemporary art and have been recognized as some of the best hotels in the world. The couple has also established a foundation in Louisville, Kentucky, which supports local artists and cultural initiatives.
Laura Lee’s commitment to environmental preservation is reflected in her work with the Brown-Forman Corporation and where she also served on the board of directors of Lenox, a subsidiary of Brown-Forman. She supported the distiller’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact and promote sustainability. In addition, she has been a strong supporter of the Kentucky Nature Conservancy and other organizations that work to protect our natural resources, especially farmland in Kentucky. Laura Lee is also a member of the board of directors for several companies, including Churchill Downs, Inc., the operator of the Kentucky Derby. In addition to her professional achievements, Laura Lee has been an active community member and a dedicated supporter of Sweet Briar College; she has even come to Sweet Work Weeks to pull weeds!
Laura Lee says, “While I was a student here I wasn’t elected to any positions. I didn’t participate in any clubs. I was a slow reader. I really focused on my homework. But somewhere in there, surreptitiously, I was learning to speak up for the ideals I believed in. Watching my childhood farm go under the bulldozer provoked me to protect other farms to balance out my horror. I respect old buildings, so they became hotels, giving them a second life. Artists make the world hum, and if my husband and I bought more art we could put it in our hotels and share it with the world. Beauty calms my soul, so I encourage my garden to show off. Bison were second-class citizens so my husband and I bought some to help them regenerate. Now I am proud to say they are no longer on the endangered species list. Thinking we know something about food, especially of the farm to table movement, we opened a couple of restaurants. ‘Accomplishing’ takes a strong dose of bravery. There are pitfalls and drama and traps at every crossroad. Many times I had to lean into it and not apologize. That is when good things begin to happen. When I came to Sweet Briar College in 1959, I certainly did not see the path my life would take. I have no doubt Sweet Briar helped mold my compass. Sweet Briar taught me that I could muster my courage to speak up because I am a woman.”
Congratulations to these accomplished recipients and special thanks to the many women recognized during Reunion for their continual support of Sweet Briar College and its students, faculty and staff.