At the Heart of the Lemons Presidency ... Are the Students

By Angela Burrows

Despite his long strides, a trip across campus can be a long one for Susquehanna President L. Jay Lemons. He stops to say hello to students, greeting them by name, offering hugs and asking how they're doing. He remembers their majors, their activities, and, in many cases, their families. 

Lemons, who originally planned a career in student affairs, refers to students as oxygen. He attends their events, engages them in conversations around books and current issues, and has been known to teach a class when time permits. Moreover, each student has an opportunity to attend one of his invitation-only lunches, a tradition that has been a hallmark of his presidency.

His affinity for students goes back to the University of Virginia's College at Wise, where he spent more than eight years as chancellor before moving to Susquehanna.

"The students at Wise referred to President Lemons as the 'fourth wise man,'" said Jim Dunlop '01, a student representative on Susquehanna's Board of Trustees when Lemons arrived on campus in 2001. "They were sad to see him go." But Wise's loss was Susquehanna's gain as Lemons moved north, spending much of his first week as Susquehanna's president with students, including Dunlop.

First Encounters Spark Lasting Relationships

"We went to class together; he hung out with me and my friends in our residence hall, and even went with us to the Brew Pub," says Dunlop, who remembers the new president as "a tall, lanky guy, who was impressive because he connected with people and remembered their names. It's been 16 years since their first meeting, but Dunlop's connection to Lemons remains intact.

He and a group of college friends were invited back to campus in 2011 for Lemons' 10-year anniversary celebration as president. Lemons spent a great deal of time with them, sharing a meal and taking them on a campus tour.

Dunlop says the university has made tremendous progress under Lemon's leadership. "My friends and I have joked that we might not get into Susquehanna today!"

During his first week on campus, Lemons was taking tours rather than leading them. One of his guides was Gretchen Anderson '03 Brinza, then a resident assistant in Smith Hall.

"I thought it was such an honor to meet the new president and get to know his human side. Incredibly humble, he cares about students and treats them like family. He models what it means to connect, which is so important in today's society. Very few people have that gift. When you're talking with him, you get the sense that nothing matters but you."

Now living in Chicago, Brinza doesn't get back to Susquehanna often, but when she does she can count on Lemons to recognize her and give her a hug. "I remember going back for my 10-year reunion. He immediately recognized me and called my by name. He made me remember how Susquehanna had been my home away from home."

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