Commencement comes calling for Lambert
Sunday afternoon will not only mark the graduation of many Baker University students, it will also be a commencement for Baker University President Dan Lambert.
Lambert is retiring this year and will step down from office on July 1. Sunday will be his final commencement ceremonies as president.
"In truth, I think every change of life is a commitment," Lambert said. "There is a real sense of loss and regret in some ways. The other side of it is all of the excitement of doing something new and the intrigue of the unknown. It's very much like a graduation for me."
Lambert will be speaking at the 1 p.m. ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences and the 4:30 p.m. ceremony for the School of Professional and Graduate Studies on Sunday.
"I thought about that a lot and if I can get through that, I will be in good shape," Lambert said of his last commencements at Baker. "Fortunately, the things that have marked our departure have been done with humor and recognition. After all, this isn't a funeral. I am going to try and keep that in mind. The focus isn't on me; it's on those kids who are graduating. I think I have never lost site of that."
Lambert's wife, Carolyn, hasn't had much time to get ready for their final commencement because she has been preparing to move.
"I haven't been planning much, just mostly putting stuff in boxes," Carolyn Lambert said. "When that day comes, it will be about remembering all of the graduations. I know that it will hit me on that day that this will be the last one."
Finding time to prepare his speeches has been tough on Lambert because of many events during the past few weeks.
"I have carved out lots of time this week, because there hasn't been much previously," Lambert said. "Typically, I have had little bits of time three or four weeks out, but there hasn't been that time this year. By the time, Saturday and Sunday roll around, I hope to be ready."
Time running out
The last few weeks have been emotional for Lambert because he knows his time as president is running thin.
"It's been far more emotional than I anticipated," Lambert said. "I think I am managing it well. In addition to the things I usually have to do, many other things have gone on. I will have to say, it's been an emotional experience."
Despite leaving Baker very soon, Lambert said the university and its people will always be close to his heart.
"My life will never be the same and I will never see many of these people again," Lambert said. "But you realize there are going to be other things that make it worth while and rewarding. We know that we are going to continue a lot of the relationships that have been important to us here, because this hasn't been just a job; it's been a home. We are going to be low on the radar screen as far as Baker is concerned, but it's never going to be far from our thoughts."
Carolyn said she has loved her time at Baker.
"I have loved almost every moment," Carolyn said. "It's been a wonderful experience. I have to pinch myself to realize how fortunate of a life I have lived."
Lambert just hopes the people at Baker will take away something positive from the school and their time spent at the university.
"The important stuff is what people carry away," Lambert said. "I think I at least worked hard at trying to provide the kind of environment that, particularly, the undergraduates here in Baldwin City will take with them. I hope it's positive.
"When they come back, it's going to be the same place, because the values are the same," Lambert said. "That's been true for 148 years and I suspect it will continue to be true. Pride may not be the appropriate term, but I take a lot of satisfaction in seeing that central value has survived on my watch."
When Lambert steps down, he will have completed 19 years as president of the university. During his long tenure, many events and improvements have happened to Baker University.
But when asked what accomplishments he is most proud of, Lambert keeps to his usual quiet, humble self.
"I find my answer changes day to day, because the things I am proud of aren't necessarily the things I am responsible for," Lambert said. "They just happened on my watch. I get more credit for it than I should."
??????Some of those accomplishments include bringing the Osborne Chapel over from England, the founding of the SPGS in Overland Park in 1988 and the founding of the School or Nursing in Topeka in 1991.
There have also been several improvements to the campus and its buildings, including the Harter Union, Collins Library, Liston Stadium and the Charlie Richard Sports Complex.
"The stuff that you can see has been important, because of what it represents," Lambert said. "There are lots of things that have been deeply satisfying."
One construction project Lambert regrets not starting is new science building, planned to be built on the south side of campus.
"I will always regret not having finished that science building project," Lambert said. "I would have loved to get that done. It was clear that it was going to take more time than it was prudent for me to commit."
The latest improvement is the upgrade at Liston Stadium, which is expected to be completed in August. The project includes artificial turf on the football field, resurfacing the track, adding an eighth lane to the track and paving the parking lots.
Lambert was glad he was able to begin the last phase of the project during his tenure.
"I asked the board to borrow the money to do that," Lambert said. "We raised a lot, but it would have taken too long to raise the rest of it, in my opinion.
"Everyday we were losing out to the competition," Lambert said. "We cannot compete on the basis of facilities, but that shouldn't be a deterrent to our ability to attract quality student athletes. I also felt that it would be easier to move in that direction, than leave it for the new president."
Baker's next president, Patricia Long, a vice chancellor at University of Missouri-Kansas City, will take over on July 1. She was announced as the next president March 8, and she will be the first woman as Baker's president in the school's 148-year history.
Lambert said Long was an excellent choice for his predecessor.
"I think she was a superb choice," Lambert said. "There is a lot of momentum here that I think she will capture and enhance. She has had good experience. Carolyn and I will be the biggest cheerleaders of the new president. Personally we like Dr. Long a lot."
Plans for the future
After June 30, the Lamberts will begin a new life, separate from Baker University. They plan to spend some time in Lawrence, while also spending large amounts of time with their children and grandchildren on the east coast.
"We will be splitting our time between Lawrence and South Carolina," Lambert said. "I have put off making any decisions about any significant commitment professionally, until I have had a chance to recharge."
Lambert said he might try writing a book with a friend, but will mainly enjoy time with his family.
"I am still toying with the idea of co-authoring a book with a colleague who retired a year or so ago," Lambert said. "Other than that, I look forward to having large blocks of time to do what I want to do. The chief among those will be spending time with my children and grandchildren."
Carolyn said their family has had to take back seat to duties at the university recently, but won't anymore.
"We've had to put them on hold sometimes," Carolyn said. "Now they are probably going to get tired of us because we will always be around."
Lambert said he will never forget how nice people have been to him and his wife during their 19 years at Baker.
"By and large, many wonderful people have been so nice to us. Nicer than we deserve. They have given us some really nice memories to take with us when we drive into the sunset."