Founders’ Day events provide a time to honor the past and shape the future

Students lay daisies on Monument Hill during Founders' Day celebration.
Students lay daisies on Monument Hill during Founders' Day celebration.
Students lay daisies on Monument Hill during Founders’ Day celebration.

First year student, Bivushi Timilsina, shares her reflections of her first Founders’ Day weekend. 

Posted on September 28, 2023 by Sandra Huffman

“As the sun rose on Founders’ Day, there was an undeniable buzz of excitement in the air. It was a day that brought together all the students, from the eager freshmen to the seasoned seniors, to celebrate the rich history of our beloved Sweet Briar College.” These are the words freshman Bivushi Timilsina ’27 wrote in her journal and shared with her parents in Nepal about experiencing her first Founders’ Day celebration at Sweet Briar.

As an incoming first year student, Timilsina applied to work on the Founders’ Day planning committee over the summer as she felt it would give her a chance to learn more about the College and its history. She realized that Founders’ Day was one of the biggest events of the academic year and she wanted to know what was involved in making it happen. The committee met virtually over the summer and then in person after students arrived on campus in August. Their hard work culminated in what Timilsina described as an “amazing event” held over a three-day period from September 15-17.

Each year during Founders’ Day celebrations, the Sweet Briar community recognizes the contributions of founder Indiana Fletcher Williams and her husband, James Henry Williams, who left the idea and initial means of establishing the College in memory of their daughter Daisy. In addition, ceremonial events also honor the generations who worked the land during the era of slavery and after Emancipation.

On Friday afternoon, September 15, the Sweet Briar community gathered in Murchison Lane Auditorium to begin its celebrations with the traditional Founders’ Day Convocation. “The event commenced with Chaplain Lindsey Moser offering a heartfelt invocation, connecting us to the traditions and values that Sweet Briar holds dear,” wrote Timilsina.

Interim President Mary Pope Maybank Hutson ’83 then welcomed members of the community gathered in the auditorium, including former president Meredith Woo who returned for the day’s events. Timilsina said, “Interim President Hutson followed with a warm and welcoming address, filling the room with a sense of unity and purpose.”

Bivushi Timilsina shares the Land and Labor Acknowledgement. Bivushi Timilsina shares the Land and Labor Acknowledgement.Then it was Timilsina’s turn to speak. The Founders’ Day planning committee selected her to acknowledge the significance of land and labor. As she expressed gratitude for the founding family, the enslaved workers, and the Monacan Nation, she said, “Our history is as rich, beautiful and complex as the land that Sweet Briar sits on.”

She then continued with a reading of the poem “The Layers” by Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz, which beautifully captured the essence of the connection to our future selves. She added, “With every step we take, may we honor those who came before us, amplify their stories and continue to shape this land with purpose and compassion.”

Interim President Hutson continued this thought as she gave her remarks, listing the many founders who helped create the Sweet Briar College we know today. She said, “During the lifetime of this college, we can see that Sweet Briar hasn’t stayed in one place. Sweet Briar has forged ahead and in recent years has earned national recognition for its innovations. This forward momentum has been spearheaded by many people, which means that today this college has many founders. And we continue to move forward. Everyone who is part of Sweet Briar College today is a founder. We are all founders. We are all on a journey of discovery and we find our way as we move along this path, both as individuals and as members of the community. The Sweet Briar community. “

Hutson then introduced the Founders’ Day Convocation Speaker, Kala Bonner, Assistant Professor of Biology and the 2023 SGA Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient. Timilsina said, “Dr. Kala Bonner, with her wisdom and charisma, graced us with the convocation address, leaving us with profound insights and inspiring words.”

Professor Kala Bonner presents the Founders' Day Convocation Address. Professor Kala Bonner presents the Founders' Day Convocation Address.Bonner spoke about the beauty of the seed and the reward of the harvest. She said, “When I look at you, the ‘Sweet Briar Community,’ I see a beautiful harvest. One that is a product of determination, grace and endurance. One that is ever evolving to ensure that every seed from every nation is represented and nurtured. It’s beautiful and it makes us unique.”

In the last words of her address, she added a call to action: “I am challenging you to let your character, grace, strength, integrity and kindness be the seed that you sow into this beautiful garden we call Sweet Briar College.”

What Timilsina called “the highlight” of the afternoon was the presentation of Academic and College Awards by Dr. Teresa Garrett, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College. Timilsina said, “It was a moment of pride for all present, celebrating the dedication and excellence that define Sweet Briar.” (Click here to see a full list of award recipients in the attached program).

The ceremony concluded with a benediction by Chaplain Moser and the singing of “Sweet Briar, Sweet Briar, Flower Fair” by those in attendance.

Following the convocation, a bagpiper from Albemarle Pipe and Drums led a procession of students, faculty, staff and community members to Monument Hill. There, the Sweet Tones performed the Sweet Briar Song, and community members were invited to lay a daisy at the base of the Williams’ family monument in honor of their contribution to Sweet Briar College.

Later that evening, following a community dinner, the day ended with a sunset walk to the Enslaved Community Cabin and the Burial Grounds for Enslaved People in order to honor these men, women and children with a celebration of their lives and contributions to the College.

The community gathered for a sunset walk to the Burial Grounds for Enslaved People during Founders' Day 2023. The community gathered for a sunset walk to the Burial Grounds for Enslaved People during Founders' Day 2023.

Timilsina felt this was a poignant reminder of the generations who had worked this land. She wrote, “As the sun dipped below the horizon, we walked in quiet reflection to the Burial Grounds for Enslaved People, honoring the history and resilience of those who had shaped our campus.”

The ceremony included the laying of roses at the entrance to the Grounds, an inspiring message from Pastor Jacob Hopson (father of Destine Hopson ’26) and an encapsulating message from Tony Ryals, Assistant Dean of Student Success.

Ryals said, “While it can be sombering at times to look at these nameless indentations, I smile knowing we are the manifestation of their prayers, their hopes and their dreams.”

On Saturday, September 16, the Upper Quad turned into a Mystical Meadow for the annual Founders’ Day Dance. The location was blooming with enchantment and drew inspiration from the beauty and magic of the flora that encompasses our dazzling planet.

Students attend the Mystical Meadow themed Founders' Day Dance. Students attend the Mystical Meadow themed Founders' Day Dance.

Finally, on Sunday, September 17, the last event of the weekend was an off campus visit to the Monacan Nation Ancestral Museum. A van full of students met with tribal leader Lou Branham to learn about the history and culture of the Monacan Nation. They also visited the museum and schoolhouse.

In her final remarks about the weekend, Timilsina wrote, “Founders’ Day was not just a celebration. It was a day of remembrance, unity, and a recommitment to the values that Sweet Briar College holds dear.”

Members of the 2023 Founders’ Day Planning Committee were: Safiya Crutchfield ’25, Olivia Heffernan ’25, Destine Hopson ’25, Kailey McCarthy ’25, Adreana Sanchez-Catzin ’25, Etaf Jumaa ’26, Bivushi Timilsina ’27 and Jess Austin, Assistant Dean of Student Life.

The Founders’ Day Dance Committee under Student Life plans the dance. Members include Katie Grush ’24, Abigail McAllister ’24, Gail Faulkner ’25, Lizzie Earhart ’25, Lauren Frank ’25, Pretty Paul ’26, Victoria Schofield ’26, and Naomi Scissors ’27.