It all came down to timing for Elon University President Leo Lambert.

Elon is completing the final aspects of the Elon Commitment strategic plan, and is in the leadership phase of the Elon Leads fundraising campaign. 

So it only made sense to Lambert that the next president be in place for the implementation of the new strategic plan and the public launch of Elon Leads.

"It seemed to me to be the best thing for the university to have the person who was in charge of the leading that planning, leading that visioning be here to see that plan through," Lambert said. "It would not be appropriate for me to chart a course for the university to 2030, then depart my post.

"It's better for the new president to have that responsibility of being one of the principle architects of the next strategic plan for the university."

Lambert announced Monday he's stepping down as president after 18 years. He signed a five-year contract with the Board of Trustees in 2012, and will extend that a little longer to be onboard through the hiring process for his successor. He'll then take a yearlong sabbatical before returning in a president emeritus role.

Lambert said it was emotional telling the Board at its annual spring meeting in Florida last week, but commended the leadership of Kerrii Anderson '79, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Wes Elingburg P'11, who'll chair the search committee. 

In looking back at his time at Elon, Lambert said he was proud of the university-wide leadership and culture that went into the growth and development that occurred over the last 18 years. He recalled spending time with people who made his time valuable, like Edna Truitt Noiles '44 and President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley. 

But Lambert also talked at length about access to higher education, an issue important to him and one he sees as being at the focal point of Elon's mission for decades to come.

"Everything the university is doing to reach out to bright young people and give them access to education," Lambert said. "Access to education is what it's all about for the future of this country. My liberal friends believe that, my conservative friends believe that — I think that might be some of the only common ground we have left.

"That's something Elon's going to be focused on for the next 40 years, is continuing to acquire resources so that we can make an Elon education accessible to as many people as possible."

Lambert's already begun another book with Peter Felten, associate provost and director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning and Center for Engaged Learning. He'll be working on that during his sabbatical, too. 

He also said his future role could include a little bit of teaching, and that he's open to surprises.

As for his successor, Lambert wants them to be able to know and understand Elon's culture. He figures it'll be one of the top academic jobs in the country.

And as he assesses his legacy, Lambert draws back on Danieley, who served as Elon's sixth president.

"Now there's a legacy, a tremendous legacy," Lambert said. "I remember, Earl summed it up real well — that he did his best. In the end, that's all you can say. You tried really hard.

"I have appreciated my wonderful colleagues. Every aspect of leading Elon is a team sport. Leadership is a team sport at a university. I had the most wonderful teammates. That's the most important aspect of my leadership here. I hope that it's been collegial, and has brought in a lot of voices from across the university community to ensure we're guiding Elon in the right direction."