Historic venue provides backdrop for future-focused Evening for Elon in New York City
The annual gathering for Elon alumni, parents and friends drew a record crowd to a gala setting aboard the WWII-era aircraft carrier Intrepid.
More than 1,000 Elon alumni, parents and friends gathered Sept. 13 aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York City to celebrate the university that binds them together. It was the largest crowd ever for Evening for Elon in NYC, an annual event hosted by Trustee Ed Doherty and his wife, Joan, that brings together Elon supporters in the Northeast.
The WWII-era aircraft carrier Intrepid, the centerpiece feature of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex, was the backdrop for a program that provided Elon President Leo M. Lambert with an opportunity to challenge members of the Elon family to help their university fly higher in the decades ahead.
Last February, Lambert announced his plans to conclude his presidency and transition to the role of president emeritus. Throughout the night, the crowd offered its cheers and applause as appreciation for what Lambert has meant to Elon, with Lambert saying it has been “the privilege of a lifetime” to serve as president of Elon.
“You need to care for your university and help it continue to grow and to shine a light on how higher education can move ahead,” Lambert told the crowd on the carrier, now docked in the Hudson River. “The world needs Elon, and your university needs you.”
Evening for Elon in NYC has grown from an initial gathering of about 150 Elon parents to become the university’s largest annual off-campus event. It is one of nearly a dozen Evening for Elon events held around the country each year to bring the university’s supporters together to connect and learn about plans for the future.
“Great universities are ultimately known by the accomplishments of their alumni, and I have overwhelming confidence that you will propel us to new heights we cannot fully anticipate this evening,” Lambert told the Elon graduates in the crowd. “You are Elon’s future.”
Earlier in the evening, Elon hosted a special reception on the deck of the Intrepid for alumni and leaders from the Academia Europea Di Firenze in Florence, Italy, which in July made Elon its school of record. That partnership expanded a relationship between the two institutions that stretches back years.
Hundreds of Elon alumni, parents and supporters then filled the flight deck of the Intrepid, sharing the space with a range of aircraft that were based on the aircraft carrier home during its 30 years of service. In the background, the lights of Manhattan began to shine as the sun began to drop, with classmates trading stories with their peers, and parents catching up with their children, now professionals around the New York area.
The main Evening for Elon program began with the sounds of the alma mater echoing through one of the Intrepid’s expansive hangars as a group of Elon alumni delivered an a capella rendition of the signature song. Later in the evening, Rob Marnell ’06, now a cast member of “Beautiful, the Carole King Musical” on Broadway, dazzled the crowd with his rendition of “Gratitude” from the show.
A standout performing arts student during his time at Elon, Marnell is evidence of the power of the student-faculty relationships that the university cultivates, according to Catherine McNeela, William S. Long Professor and professor of performing arts, who introduced him at the event.
“These relationships are so powerful, they extend beyond their time at Elon,” McNeela said. “I have been blessed to not only see my students grow in the classroom, but to watch firsthand as their lives unfold beautifully.”
Brian Feeley ‘03, director of alumni engagement, took the stage to offer a welcome and to introduce Kerrii Brown Anderson ’79, chair of the Elon Board of Trustees. “This evening is a time for us — fellow alumni, friends and family — to build our networks, update our Elon IQ and celebrate the place that unites us each in spirit — Elon University.”
As she introduced the president, Anderson reflected on what Lambert has meant to Elon since assuming the presidency in 1999, and praised his wife, Laurie, for what she has meant to the university and the surrounding community. As Anderson spoke, photos of important moments from President Lambert’s Elon career were displayed on screens behind her.
“With inspired ambition, a lot of collaboration, innovative strategic planning, relentless attention to detail and a hyper-focus on students,” Anderson said, “President Lambert charted a course for success that was not only unique in higher education, but rare in any industry.”
Anderson reminded the crowd that since becoming president, Lambert has awarded 23,600 diplomas —more than all previous Elon presidents combined. “From handshakes, hellos and selfies during College Coffee, to round-table discussions at retreats, to classroom visits and SURF day presentations, to scholarship dinners and award ceremonies, he has truly known the students to whom he was handing diplomas,” Anderson said.
“Leo Lambert leaves for each of us a legacy of which we can truly be proud — a globally focused institution that produces graduates who can navigate complex challenges, and who the world so desperately needs,” Anderson said.
Taking the stage, Lambert thanked the Dohertys for their continued support for Evening for Elon in NYC as well as the multiple initiatives the have contributed to, such as the recently renamed Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a program endowed by Ed and Joan Doherty in 2006. Within the last year, the Doherty family also made a commitment to endow eight Odyssey Scholarships. Lambert also applauded the work of steadfast Elon supporters Ed and Jill Moriarty, the parents of Meghan ’16 and Cole ’18, and Cindy and Rob Citrone, parents of Gabriella ’17. Ed Moriarty and Cindy Citrone, who were in the audience Wednesday night, both serve on Elon’s Board of Trustees.
Elon's president then turned the focus to what lies ahead for Elon, reminding the crowd of the university's reputation for thinking in decades rather than just semesters or years. Lambert offered a series of “far horizon points” that Elon and its supporters must keep in sight as the university continuously moves forward as a leader in experiential education.
“Our culture, focused on students and learning, teaching and mentoring, innovation and creativity, and kindness will enable us to continue as bold experimenters and leaders in higher education,” Lambert said.
Elon must keep a disciplined focus on maintaining its institutional identity, which includes setting the global standard for engaged learning, Lambert said. “Our challenge will be to build on these distinctions as we compete alongside the best institutions in the country, many with much longer-established reputations and much greater wealth,” he said. “But we are going to do it and we are going to continue to rise.”
Elon offers a national model for university athletics by ensuring that all student-athletes are able to take advantage of the high-impact practices that the university offers, including participating in a global experience and completing an internship, Lambert said. “We have shown that you can make it into the NCAA tournament and still have the best grades in the country,” he said, referring to the recent success of Elon’s women’s basketball and women’s lacrosse teams.
Turning to institutional resources, Lambert spoke about the need for expanding financial assistance for students, noting that the Elon Leads Campaign is almost entirely devoted to creating more endowed scholarships. The goal is to maintain access to Elon for students from all backgrounds, increasing resources for the Odyssey Scholars Program, the Fellows programs and Elon Engagement scholarships.
Illustrating the impact that such scholarships can have, Lambert pointed to examples of several Elon alumni, including Nikki Morillo ‘12, a Susan Scholar as part of the Odyssey Scholars Program, who is now a distinguished elementary school teacher in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Morgan Smith ’16 graduated summa cum laude with a double major in finance and international business, thanks to being named a Weisenberger Business Fellow, Lambert said, and she now works as a corporate development program analyst for JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Lambert also talked about Jordan Robinson ’13, who received the William Wesley Staley Scholarship, one of the Elon Engagement scholarships. Robinson earned a degree in finance, and while at Elon had the opportunity to study in Spain, completed an internship at PNC and was selected as an Elon University Career Fellow. He’s now a client solutions manager at Nielsen.
Lambert said these students are shining examples of the power of financial aid to transform students’ lives, and the reason that Elon must be committed to the decades-long journey of growing its endowment.
“I want you to keep your love for Elon and Elon people burning brightly,” Lambert said. “I want you to keep your sharp intellect always thinking about how to move Elon forward, how you can support, improve and learn from Elon. What do you want her next chapter to be as a leading global institution and how can you help make that happen?”