Constant in Our Commitment

on February 9 | in Featured, President's Essay | by

Over our 175-year history, Hollins people have risen to the challenges of war and economic hard times to find ways not only to endure but also to thrive.

By President Nancy Oliver Gray

Nancy Oliver GrayOur 175th anniversary year got off to a wonderful start. We welcomed the largest incoming class in 17 years and later introduced the 12th president of Hollins, Pareena Lawrence, who will take office in July (see p. 3 for more information). Thanks and congratulations to Linda Lorimer ’74, who chaired the presidential search committee, and to those who closely worked with her to bring such an outstanding new leader to Hollins.

From our earliest days as the oldest chartered women’s college in Virginia, Hollins has been constant in its commitment to provide rigorous mental training equal to that afforded to men so that students can learn to think independently, express themselves effectively, and develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Today, employers tell us they are seeking college graduates who can write and speak well, think critically and creatively, and work well with others—the very skills we seek to develop in every Hollins student through her liberal arts education.

From the beginning, Hollins has been progressive. When we launched our creative writing program, we based it on the assumption that reading great literature informs good writing. Other institutions subsequently followed our lead. We also set the pace for many colleges and universities when we started our study abroad programs in the 1950s. One of the first women’s colleges to introduce coeducational graduate programs, we remain one of very few schools in the country offering graduate programs in an innovative summer session where M.F.A. students can pursue their study of dance, playwriting, film, children’s literature, or children’s book writing and illustrating. Recently, our cutting-edge Batten Leadership Institute garnered national attention, and our new Honors Seminar Program, focused on undergraduate research, offers exceptional opportunities to outstanding students.

Yet life at Hollins has not always been easy. During the 19th century, the campus was struck by a typhoid epidemic shortly after East Building was completed, and a significant drop in enrollment occurred. After bouncing back from that experience, construction on Main Building started the day that Virginia seceded from the union during the Civil War. Given a labor shortage and funding deficit, the building stood as an empty shell, known as “the wilderness,” for eight years. World War I forced the cancellation of our 75th anniversary celebration. And with an endowment of less than $500,000 in the early 1960s, it is no wonder that then-President John Logan called Hollins an “act of faith” during our 125th anniversary year.

But throughout our 175 years, Hollins has shown its resilience. Generations of smart, determined people who care passionately about our mission have had the strength, creativity, good humor, and resolve to conquer whatever challenges faced them and maximize opportunities as they arose. As a result, Hollins has thrived, and our graduates are equipped to lead resilient, meaningful lives.

This fall, I was privileged to announce a $20 million gift commitment for unrestricted endowment arranged by Elizabeth Hall McDonnell ’62 and her husband, James S. McDonnell III, through the JSM Charitable Trust. The McDonnells’ kindness is motivated by their love for and commitment to Hollins. They hope others will pause during our 175th year to reflect on how important Hollins has been to them. I encourage you to think deeply about the impact of your Hollins education and friendships on your life and to respond as generously as you can. In addition, consider prospective students you might refer or other ways in which you can help raise our visibility.

In this milestone year, I can think of no better way to welcome President-elect Lawrence than by doing all we can to ensure a vibrant future for new generations of students.

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