On Dr. Elizabeth Leonard’s door there hangs a small, manila-colored poster. Held by a magnet, the poster hangs there as inspiration to Dr. Leonard and the many students that pass by on a daily basis.
“Here,” she said as she took it down. “This is kind of my motto.” In beautifully written calligraphy, the poster has a quote by Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
That’s what life is for Dr. Leonard: a daring adventure. Now, she moves from one adventure to the next as she heads to Ireland for retirement. After 13 years as a professor of sociology, it is time for her to go on a new adventure.
During her time at Vanguard, Dr. Leonard has accomplished many things. Along with winning the respect and affection of students, faculty, and many noted professionals in her field, she has brought much attention to the issue of women and injustice.
She has collaborated with Professor of English, Warren Doody, who turned the research Leonard collected into a drama, Life Without Parole, that has been performed by Vanguard students and received ample attention at the Kennedy Center Film Festival in 2009. She also worked with Professors of Cinema/Digital Media Olivia Klaus and Ann Caryn-Cleveland to produce the documentary film Sin By Silence, based on her book Convicted Survivors, which was chosen by the Domestic Violence Center of Greater Cleveland for its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
Dr. Leonard insists that her accomplishments were because of the amazing colleagues and students she has been privileged to work with over the years.
“I love teaching. I loved the classroom before I even start teaching, watching students come in and interact. It’s a privilege not only to educate them but to help them discover who they are and who God is calling them to be. Because of them I have my Silly Bandz!” She said laughing as she held up the colorful bunch of bracelets. “I plan to follow many of them on Facebook. They’ve given me more than they realize.”
The students of Vanguard also have received much from Dr. Leonard. Sophomore Estefany Morataya recently switched her major to sociology because of Dr. Leonard.
“When I spoke with Dr. Leonard, she made me realize that sociology was the major for me. She told me so much about what alumni had done with that major and what I can do with that major. She inspired me and showed me the good that I could do,” Morataya said.
Seeing the passion with which Dr. Leonard approaches her work is something to be admired. Students under her instruction had only good things to say: “Inspiring,” “admirable,” and “passionate,” are only a few of the words used to describe her.
When Dr. Leonard was 19, she spent four weeks traveling in Ireland alone. That was when she first fell in love with the rolling green hills and the rural landscape. Her dream in life was to someday return to Ireland, along with finishing her Bachelor’s Degree. When she was in her 30s, she realized that she would never fulfill either of those dreams, so she took those dreams to God, laid them on the altar, and said she was happy with her life and it was okay if she never did those things.
“Look where I am now!” Leonard said with a smile. “To have a passionate dream about something and surrender it to God, and be okay with the death of that dream, and then have the Lord surprise me like this–it’s beyond imagining.”
Leonard and her husband were able to revisit Ireland in 2002 for their 30th anniversary. There, they fell in love with a small, dilapidated cottage in Tipperary County. They bought it and slowly, over the years, have restored every square inch themselves, by hand. Now, they are finally able to live in it.
“The more we’re there, the more difficult it is to leave it for the metropolitan OC. It’s just calling us. We have a whole life over there,” Leonard said.
Dr. Leonard looks forward to relaxing and spending time with her husband. However, if the opportunity to teach comes up, she will be glad to take it. She is leaves Vanguard with a bittersweet farewell, but firmly believes that it’s the right time to move forward.
She’s simply on her way from one adventure to the next.