Amelia Currin sailed through the winter of her senior year of high school in North Carolina, admitted early decision to her dream school, Sweet Briar College. She wore her pink-and-green T-shirts, talked about the school non-stop, plastered a Vixen mascot sticker onto her SUV. The private women’s college had the academics and the equestrian program she wanted, the setting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains was gorgeous, and upperclassmen had befriended her the moment she walked onto campus for an unofficial visit.
Everything about it, she thought, was perfect.
Then in early March, flipping through social media on her phone just days after leaving campus for a scholarship competition, she stared at news in disbelief.
The president of the 114-year-old school abruptly announced it would shut down, forever, at the end of the summer.
At first she couldn’t believe it. Then she wanted to throw up. Then she cried herself to sleep. A lot.
It was too late to apply to other schools.
But Hollins University, like several other colleges, waived deadlines to allow current and rising students from Sweet Briar to transfer. Currin was grateful when she found she wouldn’t have to miss a year of school.
Yet visiting campus, she still felt sad about what she had lost. It didn’t feel like home.
She still wore her Sweet Briar hoodies, and when friends talked excitedly about their new schools, she mostly kept quiet.
As alumnae and others fought the closing, filing lawsuits and raising millions of dollars, she followed the news. Still, she was stunned to read — again on Facebook, on her phone, one day at the stables — that a deal had been reached to keep the college open.
She was thrilled. Her parents were nervous.
If she switched back to Sweet Briar, would she just end up heartbroken again?
“There’s a lot of uncertainty going forward,” her father, Derek Currin, said last week. “I can’t see inside the books of that school,” to know how bad the finances were, or how well they might be shored up with alumnae donations and an infusion from the endowment.
He saw how fiercely alumnae had fought, how determined they seemed to save the school. And yet he couldn’t help but worry. “Maybe they don’t have the bite to back up that bark…
“It’s a gamble.”
Her parents decided to let her make the choice. “She never really let go of it,” he said of Sweet Briar, from that first moment when she saw the 3,200-acre campus. “It is a magical place.”
Still, they waited until Saving Sweet Briar, the alumnae group, paid the first installment toward the settlement last week.
“I don’t want to get hurt again,” she said.
Then she thanked Hollins for the opportunity, and told Sweet Briar — where everyone is adapting to a brand-new board and president and a fast-changing new reality — she will be enrolling this fall.
Over the weekend, she and her father came back to campus.
“It felt so, so good,” to drive through those gates, she said. “I never expected to ever come back.”
She met with board members, visited the stables, took a riding lesson Sunday.
They’ll have a partnership with Lynchburg College next year, and won’t have as many horses, said Mimi Wroten, director of the riding program, who has been there 19 years. With most of their students having transferred to other schools, no one knows yet how many will enroll this fall.
A loss of enrollment was one of the driving reasons for the decision to shut down; with smaller classes, and most students getting significant discounts on tuition, the school’s former leaders predicted insurmountable financial troubles.
The Currins know what people are saying: The school was in trouble before, and it was kneecapped this spring.
“A lot of people will be scared to go back into that situation,” her father said. “They’ll have trouble getting a freshman class.”
He’s wondering, “Will she be a class of one, or 10?”
But by Monday, after talking with lots of people on campus, they both felt reassured.
She had already taken Wroten’s advice on balance, and was handling herself better on the horse, far more confident, and stable.
“I’m just very thankful and excited to be part of this legacy,” she said. “I have faith in this school.”