President Lemons shares childhood stories and offers advice

By Kyle Kern Staff writer

Room in the Garrett Sports Complex on Oct. 5, Susquehanna President L. Jay Lemons led the first of a potential new series of talks that address the personal experiences of various speakers.

“What Matters to Me and Why?” is a series of talks featuring faculty, staff and executives around the Susquehanna community, facilitated by the Chaplain’s Office and the Counseling Center.

The discussions include personal background, personal hardships and success stories, what matters to them and why.

Lemons, Susquehanna’s 14th president, is in his final year at his current position.

He took over in February of 2001. According to to his biography on the university website, Lemons, “has led the university in development of a new strategic plan emphasizing increased intellectual engagement and a stronger university community.”

While at Susquehanna, Lemons has strengthened the university focus on tradition, bringing yearly events, such as Thanksgiving dinner, candlelight service and “Night Before Finals,” to new heights.

Lemons started off the discussion by describing the events of his life that led him to his position at Susquehanna.

He grew up in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, or what he likes to call, Nebraska’s “economic and educational hub.”

His parents were both educators in the town where he grew up; jokingly Lemons added that his parents followed him throughout his education.

Lemons continued, “Schools have been in the center of my entire life,” showcasing the fact that his parents were educators.

He quipped that he often got through a day of school just to get to athletics afterwards, a mindset that changed over the years as he pursued his doctorate in higher education.

Lemons earned bachelors’ degrees in philosophy and physical education and health education from Nebraska Wesleyan in 1983, according to the biography found on the university website.

He received a master’s degree in educational psychology and college student development from the University of Nebraska in 1985.

Lemons shared with the audience his love of sports, telling a story about his flag football years.

He loved playing flag football from third grade to sixth grade, but flag football was not offered during seventh grade, and eighth grade was the transition into full-fledged football.

In seventh grade, Lemons and several other students tried out for the cross country team. Upon the completion of his first race, Lemons finished dead last. However, instead of being upset Lemons found himself feeling a love for the sport. He continued running throughout high school, even going to Nebraska Wesleyan for cross-country.

One reason, Lemons said, that his parents supported him going to a non-faith affiliated college was the fact that the coach there promised, “I’ll take care of your boy; I’ll make him tougher.”

However, on the note of sports Lemons included a warning about the attitude toward sports today. He fears that we, as a society, put too much pressure on student athletes. They should try their best to win the game, but that is what it is: a game.

At the same time, he also believes students should not be immune to failure. Coming from his cross country experience, he believes failure creates character and allows one to build upon success and that the “myth of perfection” is hindering the current students in their academic careers.

Lemons transitioned to talking about a time in which he was struggling in his academic career. Lemons was at the University of Virginia attempting to obtain a doctorate in higher education, showing his commitment to scholarly education. At the same time Lemons was involved in an internship dealing with fundraising for 30 to 40 hours a week during the summer.

When the school year began again, the internship employer asked him to continue 30 to 40 hours a week. Lemons soon became overwhelmed.

He then did something that he encourages students to do anytime that they feel overwhelmed: he consulted his advisor. She told Lemons that she would handle it, and he went to work for a different internship that allowed him to continue coursework and gain new experience.

Lemons revealed this to the members of the discussion group to show that he is like the students at Susquehanna.

Lemons ended the talk by crediting his success to his faith and his determination to always see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. He used the anchors in his life—his family, faith and education—to steady himself.

Lemons concluded by saying, “the notion that life is linear—you are steadily going up—is crazy. Life has its ups and downs.”

Using his values of love and learning, he has continued advancing his life, especially with the help of his wife, Marsha Schone Lemons, whom he has been married to since 1984. They have four children together.

The discussion ended with a few questions from the gallery and all applauded the remarks and personal background that Lemons had given to them.

The “What Matters to Me and Why?” discussion series will be held with different faculty, staff and community members of Susquehanna on multiple dates during the year.