Buena Vista, VA - Last week, Southern Virginia University announced Mitt Romney as their commencement speaker.
Landing Romney is just another victory in a growing number of achievements that is putting this school on the national map.
SVU's reemergence nearly two decades ago was backed by the Mormon Church, which has forged a partnership with the surrounding community to mutually work on success.
In the fall of 1996, the first students took the classrooms of a reinvented college sitting on a hill overlooking Buena Vista. At that time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was looking to establish a liberal arts faith-based school in the east, a long way away from traditional Mormon hubs found out west.
"The genius of small is what we're about. We believe in one-on-one interactions in the class room and out of the classroom," said Madison Sowell, SVU's president and provost.
Since that time, the school has grown more than tenfold with big plans to grow a little bigger but not too big to roughly 1,200 students.
Often called the "Bringham Young of the East", it's a title that is more flattering to Sowell than is true.
"While we appreciate the BYU's of the world, that is not who we are or who we want to be," said Sowell.
As the school has grown, which includes accreditation and inclusion into NCAA Division III sports, so has the relationship with the city that surrounds it.
"In fact, our comprehensive economic plan, which we finalized last year; the college is a key component of that in terms of their growth and how the city is going to develop as a result of their growth," said Brian Brown, Buena Vista Economic Development.
Unlikely partners 20-years ago, are perfect partners today.
"We've been delighted by the reception that we have received from the community; Rockbridge County, and by the goodness of the local people who have supported us in many ways," said Sowell.
Governor Romney will address the 2013 class from in front of a beautiful old hotel that now stands as the university's main hall. It will be one of Romney's first appearances since his defeat last fall. That ceremony is set for April 27.
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