By Maggie Lee
In her first speech as Agnes Scott’s president, Leocadia I. Zak made an homage to the past and present, but also touched on the school’s future.
Among the things honoring the past, Zak talked about accelerating the Campaign for Main — a planned renovation of Main Hall. For the present, she emphasized the school’s signature SUMMIT program — an individualized approach to a liberal arts education which includes leadership development, global learning including travel, and individual advisory panel for each student.
And Zak said the future involves amplifying efforts to make sure students are successful once they leave campus.
There’s a lot of chatter about the value of a liberal arts education, Zak said Friday, in her inaugural address.
“Well, I know that every Agnes Scott alumnae recognizes that value. But we have to spread the word about the importance of thinking critically, writing effectively, and speaking persuasively. Oh, and yes, the importance of math, science, and coding, too,” she said.
And the school has to continue to help students make connections between the education they receive at Agnes Scott and the education they’ll receive after, whether that’s in graduate school, work or whatever they choose, she said.
“That’s why we plan to forge stronger ties to non-profits, businesses, educational institutions, and other organizations,” she said. “We want to develop effective partnerships across Decatur, across Atlanta — across this entire country — that will help our students succeed after they graduate.”
She made the remarks at a ceremony in front of more than 1,300 Scotties, guests, and friends, including delegates from other schools. They sat outdoors under a tent on a warm, sunny afternoon, breezy enough to produce flaps from the dozens of home country flags carried in by students.
Twelve years ago almost to the day, Elizabeth Kiss was inaugurated into the same job, and she was there Friday with her own two predecessors to see Zak take office.
“With your distinguished spanning successful leadership and challenging roles … across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, your lifelong commitment to liberal arts and to global engagement, your passion for womens education and empowerment, your faith, warmth and down-to-earth humility, your feistiness, and your incessant curiosity, you have all the virtues, powers and qualities that Agnes Scott needs to grow, to thrive and to lead everywhere,” Kiss told her successor.
Zak, called “Lee” by friends and colleagues, has an undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College and a Juris Doctor degree from Northeastern University. She started her professional career as a lawyer specializing in international and domestic project finance. She later moved to the public sector, joining the U.S. Trade and Development agency in 2000. In 2010, she was appointed its director by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
#ZakTheNinth, per an official social media hashtag, makes a bit of a numerical milestone: the school has now had more female than male presidents.
It was founded in 1889 as Decatur Female Seminary. Agnes Scott now has 1,040 students and 34 majors.
Inauguration day gallery by Kelly Jordan