One of my greatest pleasures over the past year has been reading chapters of Professor Emeritus George Troxler’s richly illustrated book about the history of Elon, titled From a Grove of Oaks: The Story of Elon University, which will be released next spring as part of our quasquicentennial celebration. Professor Troxler’s volume put a number of ideas in perspective for me.
First, Elon is still a very young institution. While 125 years is indeed a milestone to celebrate, Elon was relatively late to arrive on the scene in American higher education, to say nothing of Oxford’s founding more than nine centuries ago. Harvard and The College of William & Mary are both more than three centuries old and the flagship campus of The University of North Carolina was founded in 1795.
Considering that more than 60 percent of our alumni are under the age of 40, and that much of the modern campus has been constructed within the past 20 years, I often think of Elon, paradoxically, as a new university that has been around since 1889. Our relatively recent founding also established a pattern of doing things a bit differently, such as admitting women from the beginning—a novel move at a time when coeducation was rare in North Carolina. Near the end of her life, distinguished alumna and former Raleigh mayor Isabella Cannon ’24 asked me never to forget the importance of the opportunities Elon provided for women in the college’s early years.
Second, the people who have comprised the institution for the past 125 years have been courageous. Elon of old survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, a calamitous fire, loss of institutional accreditation, dwindling enrollments and missed payrolls. But showing incredible grit and determination, its people hung tight. Considering the details in Professor Troxler’s book, I’m sure you will agree it is nothing short of miraculous that the institution survived its early decades, only to be transformed, Phoenix-like, through the trial of fire and adversity. In modern times, the people of Elon have exhibited a different kind of courage—daring to be great and pursue big goals—resulting in a high level of academic excellence and national acclaim.
Third, Professor Troxler’s book reminds me that despite the many profound changes that have taken place at Elon over the decades, our real institutional character is defined by constants:
As we look forward to the decades ahead, there is much important work yet to be done. Elon will fulfill its vision to be an institution of true national stature reflected in the increasingly national and international makeup of our student body, a national reputation for engaged learning, the scholarly work of our faculty and the bigger national stage upon which Elon athletics will play as it joins the Colonial Athletic Association in fall 2014. Elon will continue to build its distinguished reputation for innovative, liberal arts-based undergraduate education on a residential campus, with distinctions in international education, civic engagement, undergraduate research, internships, writing across the university, residential learning communities and other high-impact learning practices. We will also continue to work diligently to address the issue of college costs, remaining one of the great values in American private higher education and making Elon more accessible to deserving students who do not have the full financial means to attend. Expanding scholarship aid remains our top fundraising priority.
And especially in our 125th anniversary year, we commit to redouble our efforts to keep alumni connected to the life of the university. The opening of the Martin Alumni Center this fall, the hiring of new alumni engagement staff, renewed emphasis to connect alumni to the Elon Network to mentor and support current students, new alumni awards programs and much more, all signal progress toward our strategic priority of creating one of the most vibrant alumni networks in the nation. Nothing speaks more to the power of an Elon education than the accomplishments of Elon alumni in a wide range of fields, collectively making the world a better place. As you have heard me repeat many times, the world needs Elon graduates.
Please join me in wishing happy birthday to an institution, a place and a people we all love and cherish. Long Live Elon!
Leo M. Lambert