At the southern end of the Shenandoah valley, up on hill, sits a school. It was once called the Bowling Green Female Seminary, a girls school with a focus on equestrian training. That was 1867.
Fast forward to the 1990’s and the school has begun admitting boys. Interesting that when the doors were opened wider, people stopped going in the door. The school was dwindling, going, going, then gone. But not in the way you might think.
In the year 2000 Glade Knight and his associates were handed the reigns as a completely new board of trustees. They were new, had energy, had money (at least compared to the old board), and what set them apart above all else, was that they were Mormons. Maybe I should say they are Mormons.
Now note I did not say the Mormon church assumed control of the school, just that those who took control were Latter-Day Saints. This is an important distinction.
Today the school remains small, less than 1,000 students, but it is vibrant. It has the look, feel, and in reality is, a small liberal arts college with all that that entails or infers. Small class, lots of personal attention, broad educational focus with emphasis on arts and sciences. And it also has church.
Some locals where I live, and even sometimes those at SVU itself, might say Southern Virginia is a sort of BYU East Coast. It isn’t. They should be proud of this.
Now what they mean when they say this is that the two schools share a religo-cultural tie. The two schools both require students to sign the same honor code. A code that strictly forbids any use of alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, and of course it requires strict academic integrity. Religion classes, taught from the same texts as BYU are part of the general curriculum. All the markers of a Mormon educational experience are well entrenched in the Virginia hills. If that is what you want, school and personal development devoid of debauchery and keg stands, both schools have that.
But BYU also has 34,000 students. It is a well entrenched research institution in the “heart of the beast” if you will. There are a lot of cracks in which an 18 year old can slip through. Sports are a glorified professional institution, not a general participatory student experience.
SVU has something different. It has romance.
Personal attention that leads to academic exploration and opportunity. It has that. A community of young scholars who can participate in a DIII athletic team, that too. A first class choir? A student advisor who knows not just your name but your aspirations and dreams? Yes, they have that.
They call it the beauty of small. I have been there and they are right.