For more than 70 years, both Villa Julie College and Stevenson University have been champions of education, first as a two-year medical transcription training program and now as an institution where students earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees as a key step in pursuing their career dreams.
Spanning the gap between the university’s founding to its modern-day incarnation are traditions that run through the decades. Ventures spoke with University Archivist Glenn T. Johnston to count down the top five traditions that still exist, in some form or another and connect our present with our past.
5: Founders Day
The first students at Villa Julie College began their studies on Oct. 1, 1947, a day that has been recognized ever since as Founders Day—or so it would seem. Rather, according to Johnston, this tradition “sank into obscurity in the ‘80s.” So what happened?
“When President Kevin Manning came to Villa Julie, he brought Founders Day back,” says Johnston, “in part it was to re-cement ties between the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the college.” In 2007, Villa Julie marked its 60th anniversary with the first Founder's Day Celebration on Oct. 1. Today, Founders Day festivities give a distinct nod to the past through a Mass at the convent followed by an elegant tea with the Sisters, tours of the University Archives, the Stevenson’s Got Talent show, and a picnic lunch for members of the university community.
Saint Julie Billiart, founder of the Notre Dame de Namur order and namesake of Villa Julie College, was reported to have said, “Be like a sunflower, which follows all the movements of the sun and ever turns toward it.” As a nod to this reminder to maintain a positive focus and approach to life and work, the university breathed new life into this quote on Founders Day 2018 by encouraging faculty and staff to display their own sunflowers in recognition of St. Julie—a new tradition that hopefully will flourish throughout the coming years.
4: VJC/Stevenson Pin Award
The top honor at Commencement throughout the years has been the awarding of the VJC/Stevenson Pin Award to those who demonstrated excellence as students. According to the official description, “This award is the most comprehensive honor the university confers on a graduating student whose total personal performance is meritorious. This includes academic achievement, independence and integrity of thought and action, reliability, respect for others, and involvement in university or community affairs.”
“As I was interviewing alumni of VJC, it became clear to me that their belief that the highest award that could be given at any Commencement was the VJC Pin,” Johnston says. “We had several of alumni donate their pins to the university because it was such a cherished honor that they wanted to share it with others.” However, as with Founders Day, this tradition, too, was absent for a time in the ’70s and ’80s, but was later revived and is still awarded today to recognize student excellence.
3: Building a Board
The goal of creating a Board of Trustees with prominent members of the community committed to improving the college and its financial resources was first discussed in 1967- 68. At that time, the mission of the institution changed from that of a religious order to one fitting an independent college.
“Sister Mary Stephen, who was president at the time, felt that she and Sister Helen Lawrence, wanted to create a board to represent our newly independent institution,” explains Johnston. “They immediately began to focus on bringing members to the board that would have influence in the region as well as make connections with prominent state leaders.” Later, in the early ‘80s, they left the order and became known as Carolyn Manuszak and Rose Dawson.
One such board member was Henry Knott Jr., a successful Baltimore developer who was heavily involved in private philanthropy. Another was well-known Congressional Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, supporter for whom the Port of Baltimore was named because of her staunch advocacy of the city’s maritime industry. “We always had a good selection of friends to the institution, whether on the board or in government. They did well for us,” Johnston says. Friends in government were helpful in obtaining funds for Villa Julie’s expansion and helped build out the Greenspring campus. People such as U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley were instrumental in getting earmarks in the federal budget for Stevenson initiatives to expand its computer base as well as its computer training capabilities.
“The work of Carolyn and Rose in getting powerful members of the community who could do good things for the institution paved the way for our success,” Johnston notes.
2: Annual Fashion Show
Even the university’s Annual Fashion Show is rooted in VJC tradition, according to Johnston. “I came across photos of students in 1960s in beautiful gowns on a walkway in front of a barn, and I found the juxtaposition of the two interesting and wanted to learn more,” he says. “I found that the barn became the office portion of what is now the Cuvilly Exchange—and on a warm day, in that part of the building, you can still smell the hay and manure.”
Johnston hypothesizes that the show was originally likely associated with class in sewing. Today, Stevenson is proud to host two fashion shows each spring, one of which is produced by Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising students and the other by member of the Black Student Union.
1: A Commitment to Students
Fittingly, the ultimate tradition comes back to one person. “The entire order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur was based on teachings of St. Julie Billiart,” Johnston says. “That was her commitment: not to education alone but to the needs of students.”
Johnston has interviewed several alumni from the early days of the college, and one of his favorite questions is what they did to get in trouble at Villa Julie. He cites answers ranging from smoking cigarettes, searching for bumps in road to make cars go airborne, and playing bridge when they shouldn’t have. “They all said that Rose Dawson, Dean of Students, never disciplined you. Instead, she educated you, talking about how your actions made you seem a much smaller person than you were, bringing dishonor on your family name, and changing your reputation amongst people who thought highly of you. For all of them, the repercussions of what they did wrong was far more effective than actual discipline.”
Dawson pulled inspiration from another quote of Saint Julie’s that has lasting impact. Paraphrased by Johnston: “We don’t have time to discipline children, we only have time to educate them. The best way is through a loving approach to growth as opposed to a negative approach through discipline.”
That remains a philosophy for the institution, which reminds all faculty, staff, and other members of the community that the students are the reason that we are here today. Through traditions that embody the values of a Stevenson education, the university fulfills the implicit promise made on Oct. 1, 1947: Pro Discendo, Pro Vivendo. For Learning, For Living.