‘A day as President’ offers lens into life beyond the office

President Leo Lambert’s journey to Elon University had always been marked by students.

While waiting for a train on vacation with his family in 1999, Lambert was discussing Elon with his wife. Then the train pulled up. In front of him stood a student wearing an Elon T-shirt. Lambert took this as a sign and has been trying to locate this student ever since.

Although perceived as an authorative figure, President Leo Lambert spoke to students as if he was on the same playing field during Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity’s “A Day as President” event open to the entire student body.

Lambert arrived wearing jeans and an Elon basketball polo and carried pictures from his childhood and his life as university president during the meeting April 10. Lambert spoke about his life and experiences, the administrators and staff he works with and how he maintains communication with students.

“I hope (students) see me as someone who is accessible and they feel comfortable around me,” Lambert said. “I think they do. But, I also know the position might sometimes appear to be intimidating to students, so I think events like tonight go a long way towards making my office seem more personable and accessible.”

Sophomore Immanuel Bryant, an English professional writing and rhetoric major who attended the event, said he enjoyed hearing Lambert speak.

“It’s not too many times that you catch Leo Lambert willing to talk about everything,” Bryant said.

Senior Brandon McGee, a psychology major and the former treasurer and sergeant-at-arms of Alpha Phi Alpha, came up with the idea for this event while Alpha Phi Alpha was on a retreat last year. He said it was a good way for the fraternity to support one of its philanthropies, Go–to–High School, Go–to–College.

“With that, I took my own personal spin and interpreted that you need to know about your college, you need to know about your university and your education,” McGee said. “And I explained this to President Lambert and he told me that the program was definitely doable, he saw the fit and the need, and he wanted to be of any help that he could to make sure that we are educating Elon about his role and the vision of Elon.”

At the start of the event, McGee and sophomore Danny Sellers gave a brief overview of how important it is for students to know what’s going on above and around them at the university. McGee then introduced Lambert, who told students a little more about what he does as president of the university.

“What do I do on a daily basis?” Lambert asked. “I’m not here a lot on a daily basis, and that is, I think, one of the challenges of the presidency is that you have to be everywhere. You have to travel a lot. You are the university to a lot of the external constituencies of campus and they expect to see you so that means a lot of traveling and a lot of fundraising.”

Lambert praised Twitter as a great way to help him stay in touch with the university while away, using his handle, @HeadPhoenix.

“I find (Twitter) to be very cool, and I really like it because it helps me keep a finger on the pulse of the university,” Lambert said.

He gave the example that April 6, he and his wife Lori spent the day in Connecticut thanking an elderly couple who sent a gift in support of Elon Academy and telling them how much their gift meant to the university and the scholars. Upon landing in Raleigh, Lambert checked his Twitter and a student had direct-messaged him to tell him about a musical theatre performance happening that night, so he and his wife got a slice of pizza and went to the show.

Lambert also told students about how important being president of the university is to him, and how he stands behind the statement that he made in the university’s admissions video.

“Next to raising my own two daughters with my wife Lori, being president of this university is the most wonderful professionally and personally fulfilling thing that I could imagine anybody doing,” Lambert said. “Just being around you guys every day, watching you go off and do extraordinary things, it’s just the most wonderful thing. I believe in my heart of hearts that every year Elon sends out 1,200 gifts to the world. You are those gifts.”

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