Dear Leo Lambert and Family,
I want you to picture this:
It's a hot August afternoon, and a packed to the brim Honda Pilot is welcomed onto Elon's campus as it drives over the Trollinger train tracks. In the front and passenger seat are two excited, yet nervous parents. In the back seat is an eighteen-year-old Elon freshman with a pit in her stomach and anxiousness in her bones, as she has no idea what to expect as she begins her Elon journey. Behind that Honda Pilot is a line of cars filled with other anxious, yet excited, young men and women, waiting to embark on this new experience. Each of them is from a different spot on the map, filled with so much potential and ready to flood this campus.
Somehow, us students conquer move-in day, settle into our new rooms, and wander under the oaks the next morning, where we are officially welcomed into the Elon community. It is you, President Lambert, who takes the stage with a beaming smile.
Your words stir nostalgia in parents as you speak of extra hair ties in their pockets and crushed Cheerios on the ground; they quell the worries in the students sitting before you, as you list the accomplishments and involvements that they sported on their resumes, reassuring them "you are meant to be here." Those words remind all of us sitting under those welcoming oak trees and Carolina sunshine that we only have 1325 days to seize. Just 1325 days until we cross that stage at graduation. It almost seems impossible to think about, but in that time, we will grow from a small acorn to mighty oak.
So off we go, captivated by your words, and we begin our Elon journey.
Perhaps at other universities across the country, that would have been the last we saw of you until graduation day. But at Elon, that is simply not the case. You are a president whose heart is deeply rooted in all of Elon's traditions.
From infinite conversations with students at Tuesday College Coffees, to illuminating the campus with holiday lights at December's Luminaries. From hopping on a plane to engage with winter term study abroad courses, to cheering on Varsity athletes, and even answering emails acknowledging student ideas and passions, promoting a high standard of academic excellence and civic engagement. You have supported 24-hour Elonthon dancers, and you always flash a smile and a wave hello as students from all grade levels pass you by. In sum: you are a celebrity.
To so many students, faculty, staff, and parents, your consistent presence and grateful heart put them at ease. As students, we always knew you were on our side, supporting our endeavors and our future plans. To faculty and staff, they knew they had an advocate and open ears to listen to their concerns or inquiries about their programs, their classes, and their students. To parents, it was being able to drive away from campus after Convocation knowing that their child was in good hands; it was the confidence that their child was going to grow in more ways than they could ever imagine.
In your nineteen years, your passion and heart for Elon have never diminished. It has made improvements that will benefit all, from new buildings to new and improved programs. It has put us on the map. It has made peers and relatives of the students attending this incredible institution stop asking, "What's Elon?". Elon's reputation is what it is because of the work you have put into it, all with the intention of making changes and improvements to better the lives and minds of all lucky enough to grace this campus.
But there you have it, your gratitude and humbleness shone through as you addressed the Class of 2017, and I'm sure the many classes before: "We've accomplished so many things together." You see this immense progress over your nineteen years as collaborative; you convey that the work you do simply cannot be done without everyone else that makes up the Elon community.
This persona of yours has been a role model to all of us in so many eclectic contexts. How you have served the Elon community demonstrates the selfless nature of your presidency, and is reflected as you told 2017 graduates, "When you look back on your careers in 40 years, it will matter more to you what you did for others than what you did for yourself." In all honesty, President Lambert, we hope you are reflecting now on your own career, and are sporting a grateful heart because of all you have done for others as president of Elon University.
Four years later, that same Honda pilot is packed to the brim, as are the amalgamation of other cars that followed behind it. This time, we are sitting in the back seat with an oak sapling in our laps, reflecting on every waking second of our Elon experiences. This time, our cars slowly pace down West College Avenue, taking the last snapshots of our campus before it disappears in our rearview mirrors when we cross those Trollinger railroad tracks. This time, we are adorned with the lessons you have taught us, the knowledge and understanding that your institution fueled us with. This time, we know what it was like to have Leo Lambert as our university's president. And we think to ourselves, we are lucky, oh so lucky.