A Year of Confidence

on September 5 | in President's Essay | by

President Lawrence reflects on her first 12 months in office and believes Hollins has never been more prepared to face the uncertainties of higher education and the world at large.

Photo of President Pareena Lawrence speaking at podiumAt the end of my first six weeks as Hollins University’s 12th president last year, I shared an update with our Board of Trustees on the experiences I had already enjoyed during my brief time in office. Among other things, I assured them that I had settled in nicely to Lorimer House, my new home. I proudly proclaimed, “I have figured out 80 percent of the light switches!” But I also admitted, “I am not sure what the other 20 percent actually do.”

As I celebrate my one-year anniversary as your president, I look back on the past 12 months and realize that my continuing adventure with those switches may be an apt metaphor for leading an institution of higher learning: You can anticipate and effectively manage what’s going to happen day to day about 80 percent of the time, but be prepared for the inevitable 20 percent of your tenure when you must deal with those unexpected events that could affect you positively or negatively. (That switch on your “unknown list” might turn on a handy closet light. Or it could shut off power to the TV, which could be problematic if there are 10 seconds to go in the Super Bowl, the score is tied, and you’ve got a living room full of football fans.)

Fortunately, I’ve learned this year that Hollins offers a strong foundation to handle life’s surprises:

  • Our faculty and staff believe in this university, possess a desire for relationship building, and are dedicated to the happiness and success of our undergraduate and graduate students.
  • My introductions over the past year to alumnae and supporters throughout the country confirm a deep commitment to Hollins, the importance of its place in women’s education, and the role the university plays in developing students poised to change the world, locally and globally.
  • Through interaction with the President’s Advisory Council, which consists of local community leaders, I know there is keen interest in bolstering our ties with the Roanoke region. I look forward to the council’s engagement in our strategic planning process.

Further, I cherish the tremendous inspiration I receive from our students. Their passion for learning and love for this institution never cease to impress. To me, the power of a liberal arts education to promote lives of consequence is apparent in what we see already from members of the class of 2018:

  • Roshaye Graham, a biology major, is a student at the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. She plans to become an OB-GYN and open a maternal health education center in her home country of Jamaica.
  • With a platform of ending hunger in the United States, communication studies major Emili McPhail was crowned Miss Virginia 2018, marking the second year in a row a Hollins alumna has won the scholarship competition.
  • Whitney McWilliams, a gender and women’s studies major and social justice minor, has joined Day One, a New York City nonprofit serving young people who have suffered from dating abuse and domestic violence.
  • Cierra Earl, who double majored in Spanish and communication studies, is spending two years with the Peace Corps in South Africa, helping children learn English and improve their reading literacy.
  • A biology major and chemistry minor, Kaitlin Gott is attending the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. At Hollins she spent spring term of her junior year in the rainforests of Peru focusing on her interests in ecology and animal disease.

Last August, we faced one of those “20 percent” situations as we witnessed the horrific incidents that occurred during the protests in Charlottesville, just two hours from our campus. We were shocked and heartbroken, but that weekend’s events prompted a profoundly important moment for Hollins. In the wake of those protests, we reiterated our dedication to educating leaders who will foster a more humane and just society. We reassured new and returning students of our unwavering support for diversity and inclusivity and our vehement rejection of racism and hatred. Our response to Charlottesville demonstrated to me that our community values will endure. They will sustain us no matter what unforeseen obstacles we encounter.

In 2015, T. Gregory Dewey, president of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Science, described his first year in office as “a voyage of discovery.” I wholeheartedly agree, with the caveat that the voyage shouldn’t end with that one-year milestone. With the encouragement of our students, alumnae, faculty, and staff, and the bedrock of our mission and values, we can confidently and successfully face any challenge that occurs outside of that 80 percent comfort zone.

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