Eighteen years ago, Elon College waited anxiously for the arrival of its new president. We had taken a few tentative steps in the right direction in the 1990s, but now Elon College had hired someone we hoped would guide us into the future.
Still, the ground felt shaky under our feet. Change is always hard — transitions can go wrong in so many ways. Would our new leader respect who we were? Would he work to maintain what was special about Elon College? Could this even be done without losing our soul?
We soon got an answer to our questions. There had been discussion about whether to build an on-campus football stadium or a new library. Many alumni really wanted that stadium, but President Leo Lambert weighed in that the library was the greater priority for an academic institution.
Months later, when the line of students, faculty and staff formed to move books from the old library in McEwen to its new home in Belk, Lambert was in the line, grinning and celebrating with the rest of us as a new chapter was written in Elon University’s history. We had a leader who was a visionary and prioritized what was most important.
As any former alumni can attest, the building and infrastructure that followed has transformed Elon. But it’s not bricks and mortar that make us special — it’s the faculty and staff who come to work each day hoping that they can make a difference in students’ lives.
This is the beating heart of who we are, and in his career at Elon, Lambert has kept that mission front and center in everything he does. The change into what we are from where we were has not been without some grief and controversy as we had to let go of parts of our past, but Lambert encouraged us all to live into our hopes and not our fears.
Having been a part of the last two major long range strategic planning committees, I came to deeply value and trust Lambert as a leader who was willing to fight for Elon’s mission to educate and instill within our graduates a strong belief that they were responsible to go from here and help strengthen both the local and global community.
Even as our growth and success vaulted us into places of prominence in higher education, Lambert kept his eye on the ball. We have all heard him say on numerous occasions that the world needs Elon graduates, and this is because of what we hope happens to both students’ minds and hearts when they are with us.
Because of Lambert’s visionary efforts and compassionate care for this place, we are now able to better challenge our students, work with them in undergraduate research, share their failures and successes and watch them grow in extraordinary ways as they prepare for lives beyond
This deeper connectedness of faculty and students has been made possible, not only by our facilities, but also our ability to have the time to engage one another in more profound ways as the magic of changed lives continues to inspire us all.
We will experience moments of anxiety as we look forward to a new president, but the legacy of Lambert is found not just in the physical transformation of Elon, but in all those lives that have been touched by this place.
If we hire someone who has the commitment to our community that Lambert does, Elon University is going to be just fine.