• President Lemons at Commencement

April 01, 2016

Reflection on a “Special Calling”

By University President L. Jay Lemons

By now, most of you have heard that I will conclude my service as Susquehanna’s 14th president on June 30, 2017, at the end of my current contract. It is a bittersweet decision for Marsha and me. On one hand, we’re excited about adventures that lie ahead. On the other, it pains us to think about leaving this special calling, which we have cherished and loved. We are grateful to the Board of Trustees for creating a continuing connection for us to this place we’ve come to call home, so know that I plan to teach from time to time and to assist wherever possible in advancing the university in the years ahead.

I am proud of the collective efforts of faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends that have led to many accomplishments during the past 16 years. These efforts are powerful expressions of our mission to prepare our students for creative, productive and reflective lives of achievement, leadership and service in a diverse and interconnected world.

Our recognition by the New York Times in 2014, placing Susquehanna in the top 10 institutions in the country for socio-economic diversity, reflects the very energy and vision that led to our founding in 1858. It is even more impressive that this list contained only colleges and universities that graduated at least 75 percent of their students. Our faculty have prepared more students than nearly every school in the country to present at the annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Eight Fulbright Awards in the past five years place Susquehanna among the top producers of U.S. Fulbright recipients. Students in Enactus, formerly Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), have regularly won regional competitions and placed highly in national events. Student-athletes consistently earn recognition as all-conference performers, both athletically and academically. My greatest joy is to have presented more than 7,000 degrees to graduates who have taken flight in amazing ways as alumni.

We have also honed Susquehanna’s identity and taken our place among the national liberal arts colleges. We have increased enrollment, executed capital improvements of more than $125 million, and conceptualized and implemented an innovative and rigorous Central Curriculum, highlighted by our emergence as an international education leader. We completed our largest fundraising campaign, acquired and developed new real estate, and grew our endowment and cash reserves amid a time of great economic challenge and change in higher education. Above all, I am proud that we remain a place where the growth, learning and development of our students are central to all that we do.

Progress in the area of diversity and inclusion is among our greatest achievements during this time. While there remains much to do, our community has grown to understand that an ongoing effort to create an environment where all people feel welcome, feel heard, and feel safe depends on each of us. Our Central Curriculum, with its emphasis on cross-cultural competency, reflects an ambitious commitment to helping our students understand and value difference. There is no doubt that Susquehanna is preparing students to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world.

The last few months have also brought disconnection in the form of a range of emotions and opinions about our new nickname. As I wrote to alumni last November, I know and understand the pain this has caused for some, and I am sorry for those who feel hurt. I also appreciate the encouragement and support others have shared. The Board of Trustees and I made a decision we believe is in our students’ and our university’s best future interests. We respect that there are other viewpoints. As the new River Hawks identity takes root, we will remain vigilant and true to the legacy of Luther Grossman (Class of 1916 and later leader of athletics at his alma mater), whose commitment to amateurism, integrity, fair play and sportsmanship resulted in our Crusader nickname in the mid-1920s.

The people of Susquehanna—individually and collectively—have been central to all that’s been achieved in the last 16 years. Faculty and staff, alumni and parents, donors, trustees and friends in the community all have made enormous contributions to further strengthen the quality of the four-year experience and beyond for our students. Graduating seniors with whom I share a meal each year always recognize those who have supported their journey here—a journey that would be unimaginable otherwise.

Next year, our university theme is Passion. It will be examined, expressed and lifted up in different ways. I’m grateful that so many people feel passionately about our university, because it ensures that a bright future lies ahead.