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Reflections on Leadership and Transition, Gratitude for President Pelton

Dear Emerson Alumni,

Transitions, especially transitions in leadership, can be hard for institutions, and emotional for those left in the wake. With the announcement of President Lee Pelton’s planned departure in June of 2021, I’ve begun to think about what this transition will be like for Emerson and our community.  I’ve also been reflecting on the kinds of qualities and actions that make a person a great leader. 

There have been hundreds of books written on this subject — the good, great, or transformational leader — and while I’m not an expert in the management field, I think that a hallmark of a great leader is a deep commitment to their organization, so deep that they won’t step away until they can imagine the writing on the page for the next chapter. They won’t step away until their vision has been realized, until they’ve built a strong enough foundation for what will come next. 

And that, indeed, is what Lee Pelton has done. 

Perhaps you were fortunate enough to work alongside Lee, as I have over the past eight years. In my alumni roles, first as vice president of the EBONI Alumni organization, then as vice president, and now president of the Alumni Board, Lee has been a constant and trusted partner.

Whether it was a chat on a casual stroll through campus or across a conference room table during a much-needed collaboration of ideas, Lee always showed up for me — and for us — with his deep curiosity, intellect, and motivation to bring the Emerson community and all her stakeholders together. Never has this been more evident than in how he led the College through the COVID-19 crisis, keeping the Emerson community safe and well while continuing our educational mission and ensuring our financial stability. This included the alumni community at large, with his support for the launch of new programs and services to bolster connections in a digital world. 

When faced with a challenge, under Lee’s great leadership, Emerson more than pivoted.  We reinvented ourselves.

As the president of the Alumni Association, I can say from the heart that we’re all grateful to have had Lee Pelton as part of the fabric of our past nearly 10 years. Saying he enhanced our alumni experience would be an understatement.

And since he did such a fine job as our leader, to honor his legacy we will continue to build on the foundation he left us and continue to make him proud. Will we miss his presence? Of course, along with his gentle smile and his soft but deliberate, reassuring voice. But I know that all of us in the Alumni Association, and the EBONI Alumni organization, are proud to have called him our leader. He was our vessel of hope, encouragement, and support. He was an inspiring role model.

So while it is hard to fathom an Emerson without Lee Pelton at the helm, in June, we will all need to turn our focus to the Emerson he leaves behind, one that is better because of him. Lee’s legacy exists as much in the physical spaces he brought to life in our beloved main campus in Boston and our architectural marvel in Los Angeles, as it does in the hearts of the 37,000 Emerson students who’ve graduated with an Emerson degree during this past decade. Yes, even those who earned their degrees in a global pandemic.

In closing, I write this today not as a goodbye. Lee will be with us through June 2021, and undoubtedly there will be many celebrations to come.  I write today with sincere thanks for all that he has left to us. We have no reason to be sad, only reasons to be grateful. In the months to come, we will come together as an alumni community to honor Lee, and you will be invited to share your own remembrances and best wishes for his next extraordinary role as the CEO and president of The Boston Foundation, where he will continue his work and commitment to social justice and equity for all.

The Boston Foundation is lucky to have Lee, but I think not nearly as lucky as we were to have him and to grow as a community together under his guidance. To Lee — I’ve said this before and will say it again, because it’s worth repeating: The young students look to you as their leader.  They are our future…but you, Lee Pelton, have been our inspiration and heartbeat.

Nanci Isaacs
President, Emerson College Alumni Board

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