And In the End . . .

I quoted Max De Pree on my way into Harold Washington College, and I’ll use the same quote on the way out:

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.

It is time for me to say thank you.

The last three years at Harold Washington College have been the most rewarding professional years of my life. The teams at the college and district office have helped us deliver greater successes for more students. More students are graduating, getting good jobs, and having a good experience while they are at the college. These results come from the efforts of many people, too many to mention by name here. I will call out a few special names as proxies for the efforts of everyone to whom I am deeply grateful.

I start where my City Colleges of Chicago journey started, with Chancellor Hyman. I met the Chancellor when I was consulting to CCC. Her passion for student success and institutional performance is intense, relentless and tireless. She asks time and again the seemingly innocuous question, “How does this contribute to student success?” often at times when we are in a muddle. The Chancellor’s vision and belief in the possibilities for our students has fueled the year-on-year improvements at CCC in the face of many doubters. Now businesses are knocking on our doors to get access to our students. Our profile has risen nationally and internationally.

I am deeply grateful to the Chancellor’s faith in me. I don’t know how many leaders would have gambled on a business guy with no higher ed experience to lead the college in the system with the largest credit enrollment. I have worked hard to serve her vision and goals, but I have gained much more in the effort. I joined CCC because of the Chancellor’s vision and the opportunity to be part of the largest reform of a community college system in the country. I leave because I have learned that I love being a college president, and I found a school in Vermont where I want to continue being a college president. I thank the Chancellor for seeing something in me even I didn’t recognize, and giving me the chance to be a college president. I am forever grateful.

The Chancellor has built a great team. I thank my fellow presidents and the officers of the district for their support, guidance, and counsel over the past three years. Delivering the results we have delivered over the past three years is not easy, and I appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this team.

The faculty at Harold Washington College have challenged, counseled, disagreed with, rallied behind, and engaged me. Coming in, I had an intellectual understanding of the importance of faculty to a college. Leaving, I have a gut-level understanding of the fundamental transformation that great faculty effect in our students. I thank HWC’s faculty (and Wright College’s faculty) for what they have taught me. I appreciate their leadership at the college and their willingness to support me.

The staff at HWC have undergone some of the most dramatic change over the past three years. Their willingness to change processes, offer ideas, and embrace an attitude of service to our students has enabled us to improve our student satisfaction with many aspects of the college. Many students have commented to me directly about the improvement in service and tone at the College. I thank the staff for embracing the change.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have an amazing leadership team at HWC. Margie, Wendell, Armen, Kent, Kim, Juliana, Nikole and Paul have been student-centric. They have put the needs of HWC ahead of their own needs. I am grateful for the faith they had in joining my team and the professionalism they demonstrated  with our students, faculty and staff. I have worked with leadership teams in the private and non-profit sector, and consider the HWC team one of the best with whom I have worked. Thank you.

I have also been blessed during my presidency with two amazing Executive Assistants – Gabe and Angela. They had my back at every turn. They were proactive and supportive. They exceeded my expectations. They both have bright futures ahead of them, and I feel fortunate to have worked with them early in their careers. I will miss them both.

Lastly, I thank the students of Harold Washington College. They have enriched me with their stories. They moved me with what many of them overcome in order to walk through our doors. I have felt privileged that they entrusted their education to us.

To my CCC family, thank you for your support. I feel blessed to have been with you on this part of the journey.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

4 thoughts on “And In the End . . .

  1. Thank you for your kind words. It was a pleasure working with you. Thanks for believing in me and I wish you the best.

  2. Will always have your back, Don. Thank you for your sincere support and guidance. I can’t wait to see what your incredible leadership brings to Champlain.

  3. This is what education needs: “transformation, one college at a time.” Thank you for being at HWC!

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