October 01, 2016
My Source of “Deep Gladness”
Dear Alumni and Friends,
This is my penultimate First Word column, yet another reminder that the end of my last year as Susquehanna’s president is in sight, and I am filled with many emotions. As the remaining calendar pages of 2016 grow short, I am beginning to accept that this year of “lasts” is moving swiftly.
You may know that I began my career in student life with the goal of becoming a chief student affairs officer. The son of two teachers, I have long seen the nurturing and guiding of students as they grow and develop as a noble mission. I was blessed to attend a college like Susquehanna, where I was encouraged to think about a life in higher education administration.
I will be forever grateful to my mentors and teachers who became lifelong friends. They recognized something in me that I did not see in myself and encouraged me along the way. Indeed, I never contemplated becoming a college president and I often joke that if I were ever to pen a memoir I would call it “The Accidental President.”
Although I never led a student development office, I’ve had the great privilege of working with students during my 25 years as a college president. Witnessing their journeys from timid first-years to college graduates has been a tremendous source of joy for me. As I’ve watched them discern their own vocations, I’ve been keenly aware that, thanks to many mentors, I have clearly found my own.
One of my great hopes for each of our students is that they will have people like the faculty and staff at my alma maters, Nebraska Wesleyan, the University of Nebraska and the University of Virginia, who guided and encouraged me. Mentors like University of Virginia President Emeritus John Casteen III saw my potential and provided opportunities for me to learn and grow.
The faculty and staff at Susquehanna are at the heart of this work on our own campus. I am inspired and honored to have worked with them these past 16 years as they’ve helped each generation of new students find their footing, understand their individual gifts and talents, and discern how they might use those gifts and talents to make the world a better place. This is the great privilege for those of us who call the academy home.
American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner writes that “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” My vocation, the very focus of my life, is education—the transformative power that learning, curiosity and thinking can have not only on the lives of individuals, but on society. Transformation occurs inside the classroom and outside, on musical and theatrical stages, on ball fields and playing courts, and in clubs and organizations, where individuals learn from teamwork, competition and the challenges of winning and losing. I have witnessed the metamorphosis again and again.
As just one example, our women’s volleyball team has been on an incredible run, and I’ve had the honor of being part of that journey. I could never have anticipated how emotional it would be for me to recently recognize the team’s seniors. During their first year, we celebrated Coach John “Kuuipo” Tom’s 200th win and this season, we celebrated his 300th. These young women have excelled on the court and off and along the way, they’ve become increasingly stronger as a team and as individuals. I had the joy of cheering them on in California in October 2013 as their collegiate journey began. My daughter, Maggie, who was beginning her first year at Pomona College, joined me to cheer on our team as they played against her new classmates and friends. What a joy it’s been to watch these wonderful young women from Susquehanna learn, grow and mature during these past four years.
I could cite countless other examples of personal growth and evolution, of expanding confidence and increasing clarity of direction.
As I prepare to move on to another stage in my life’s work, I can’t help but find some parallels between the paths of our students and this juncture in my own life. While I am closing the door on one segment of my career and the nature of my relationship with Susquehanna will change, I am looking forward to new challenges and to engaging with the university in new ways. I will continue to be part of this place I have loved and called home for 16 years—a place that has allowed me to fulfill my own vocation. It has been filled with “deep gladness,” and I am so deeply thankful for the privilege of serving in higher education, especially here at Susquehanna.
In a few short months, after commencement, I will become president of Academic Search, an executive search and leadership development firm. Susquehanna’s new president will shift the prism a bit, bringing a new and different perspective that will shine the light on Susquehanna in different ways. Yet even as that prism shifts, Susquehanna’s focus will continue to rest on its students, ensuring that this is a place where they find their “deep gladness” and where that gladness intersects with the world’s great need.
How grateful I am to all of you.
With warm regards,
L. Jay Lemons, President