Reuben E. Brigety II
17th Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South
December 6, 2021
The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches us, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” My season as vice-chancellor is coming to an end, more quickly than any of us had planned or anticipated. Nevertheless, I am petitioning the powers that be to measure my term in office in dog years rather than normal human years, given the profound challenges that we have weathered together, and the proud accomplishments that we have achieved together, over these last extraordinary 18 months.
The 2020-2021 academic year encompassed the most difficult time that Sewanee has experienced in over a century, since the last time our nation was in the throes of a lethal pandemic during the “Spanish Flu” outbreak after World War I. Nevertheless, I could not be more proud of how we responded to this searing crisis with grit and grace. I would like to take this moment to thank those who made possible the success that Sewanee achieved during my tenure.
I am enormously grateful to the staff of our University. To the custodians who clean our buildings, the culinary specialists who cook our meals, the groundskeepers who maintain the Domain, to the administrative assistants who manage all manner of tasks, and to all the rest of those who comprise the extraordinarily dedicated group of individuals who make Sewanee run every day, I say thank you. You are the backbone of this University, and may we never forget your contributions to the wonder of Sewanee.
Thank you to all of the residents who make Sewanee your home. To our merchants and leaseholders, your commitment to this place enlivens our community and supports our local economy. Thank you for demonstrating your continued faith in Sewanee by choosing to live and work here.
I am enormously grateful to the Sewanee students who have positively touched my life. All of us who are devoted educators are passionate about helping young people to develop themselves and to find their destiny. Whether it was by camping together at Lost Cove, having dinner at Chen Hall, riding the trails together on horseback, or chatting over coffee on the Quad, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know many of you, and I am grateful for how you have marked my heart. Thank you.
To the faculty, coaches, and advisors who work daily with our students, helping them grow into adults of character and consequence, thank you. Your work in the classroom and on the athletic fields, in the labs and on the stage, on field studies and in professional seminars and every other place where you engage students is where the essential work of our University happens. These relationships are at the core of the Sewanee experience. Watching you conjure this special alchemy under the most challenging of circumstances over the last 18 months has been awe-inspiring. I respect you and I honor you.
To the Cabinet, words can scarcely convey my profound gratitude to you and my utmost respect for you. You merry band of sisters and brothers have been through the proverbial fire together as you worked to keep the University open and operating for in-person instruction during a global pandemic of biblical proportions. I take this moment to attest publicly to your collective resolve, professionalism, competence, creativity, and commitment in rising to the manifold challenges of the last year and a half. Our community may never fully know the sacrifices that you made to keep everyone safe and sound even as you continued to plan for the future beyond the crisis. Yet I want to bear witness, here and now, to all that you have given to this University and to your ongoing dedication to Sewanee. Thank you.
To the Trustees, thank you for entrusting me with leadership of the University of the South. On that last snowy day in February in Convocation Hall nearly two years ago when you elected me as vice-chancellor, none of us could have imagined the difficulties that would shortly present themselves. Nevertheless, in every decision I have made while in this office, I have tried to honor the trust and confidence that you bestowed upon me that day. I will remain forever grateful.
To the Regents, your commitment to the University of the South is nothing short of extraordinary. With wisdom and comity, you guided me through the rough seas of my first 12 months in office. You showed extraordinary moral courage in your statement of Sept. 8, 2020, categorically repudiating Sewanee’s past veneration of “The Lost Cause” ideology and committing the University to be a model of diversity and inclusion in the future. You have stewarded Sewanee’s resources expertly and you have organized yourselves to tackle the challenges of the years ahead. I wish that everyone in the Sewaniverse could see what I have witnessed in you during my tenure—a group of men and women who share liberally of their work and wisdom to ensure that the promise of a Sewanee education endures for years to come. God bless you for your tireless commitment to our beloved University.
Chancellor Skirving, you have offered me indispensable counsel and spiritual support throughout my tenure. Furthermore, you have offered me your friendship. I am enormously grateful to you and to Sandy for all that you have done for me and for this University at a time that has been exceptionally difficult for everyone. Thank you, sir, from the bottom of my heart.
Finally, to Board Chair Reid Funston, let me publicly say this. I have had the good fortune in my life to observe and learn from some of the best leaders that our nation has to offer. I have scarcely ever seen anyone else who has demonstrated the degree of judgment, tact, skill, compassion, and commitment during such extraordinarily challenging circumstances that I have witnessed you demonstrate over the last year and a half. Your commitment to Sewanee is exceeded only by the depth of your humanity, and it has been an honor of a lifetime to have worked alongside you. Thank you, sir, for being a truly exemplary leader.
In addition to believing in the power that rests in Scripture, I am also a devotee of the wisdom that lies in musical theater! In Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the elder General George Washington tells a young Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton on the eve of the Battle of Yorktown, “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory, you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Adhering to Washington’s wisdom, I will leave it to others to define my legacy as the 17th vice-chancellor of the University of the South. Yet as my family and I prepare to leave the Mountain, we do so with grateful hearts: grateful for the friends we have made here, grateful for the work that we did here, and grateful that we will forever be a part of the Sewanee story.
Ecce Quam Bonum, and may God bless you all.