Linda Stone: The Exit Interview
Ms. Linda Stone has worked at Yeshiva University for the last 15 years, the majority of them spent as director of student events. If you’ve ever attended an Office of Student Life-run activity, there’s a good chance Stone had something to do with it. From Super Bowl parties to Chanukah concerts, chesed trips to movie nights, she’s overseen all of it.
A self proclaimed “proud Brooklynite,” Stone spent her undergraduate years at Brooklyn College and then received a Master’s in organizational leadership from Mercy College. Before landing at YU, she worked for a grant program at Mercy College and various administrative positions at private schools.
Stone stepped down from her role at the beginning of March. As for what’s next, she isn’t sure herself. “A lot of people have been asking me that,” she says. For now, she plans to take a sabbatical of sorts: a few months off to reflect on her more than 30 years in education.
The Commentator had the chance to sit down with Stone for an exclusive exit interview.
Hi Linda, thanks for making time to answer a few questions. You always tell us you’ve been at YU since “prehistoric times.” And 15 years is a pretty long time. How does it feel to be leaving after so long?
I have to say, this decision was very very hard for me and I changed my mind a couple of times. I really feel that I’ve been so fortunate to be part of the YU community all these years. Leaving was very tough for me. But I think for personal and professional reasons it's the right time for me to be leaving. You know I’ve said this to other people: I think sometimes it’s easy to stay where you feel safe, where things are easy. But I think it’s also important sometimes to push yourself, to challenge yourself. That’s what’s behind this decision. I have been really blessed to be a part of this university. Not only for great colleagues who I’ve gotten to know over the years, but most importantly because of the students. The students are everything. You guys are what make YU tick. You challenge me — sometimes you frustrate me — but I learn from you. Working with the students has given me so much joy over the years.
Speaking of joy from working with the students, what’s your favorite project, event, or really anything you’ve been a part of at YU over the years?
Over the years I’ve been able to participate in some service learning projects, and those are the ones that really meant the most to me. I traveled to Thailand a couple years ago on a YU service mission where we studied and met with people working on the human trafficking issue there. I also went to Houston where we did recovery after the hurricane there. I worked with a group that did aluminum siding as part of a Habitat for Humanity project. I also worked on Midnight Run, where we gave food and clothing to homeless people. That’s really personally where my heart is, and to work with students who wanted to be a part of those kinds of efforts was the most rewarding for me.
Additionally, a little over a year ago, I was part of a group of students and other members of the YU community who joined together in a rally in support of LGBT rights. That’s something I’m very very happy to see the university moving forward with in a positive way. I’m very encouraged by that, and proud of what I was able to do within the bureaucracy of the administration. And I want to thank [Vice Provost] Chaim Nissel for his efforts in addressing this very important student issue.
Nice. Looking forward, how do you plan on spending your sabbatical? Lots of free time…
That’s a very good question. I’m probably going to do some fun things that I never had time — or allowed myself to have the time — to do. I want to read, I want to get back to doing some hiking. Maybe I’ll binge watch some crazy TV drama or whatever. I’m not really sure. Again, I’ve been working for over 30 years and I’ve never given myself a chance to just do what I want. That whole experience is going to be new for me.
AIso, if I could just take a little part of this discussion — there’s so many people I want to say “thank you” to. But I really want to say how much I have appreciated my partnership with Rabbi Josh Weisberg. He and I have really dealt with so many challenges and so many successes over the years. He’s a great person to have as a partner in crime. Thank you Rabbi Josh for always being there.
On the personal side, we heard you recently had a grandchild?
Yes! I am blessed to have three grandchildren, actually. I have two boys, ages five and seven, and now a little girl named Penny who is four months old.
You also have pets?
I have a somewhat crazy lovable dog named Vermont. She’s 85 pounds. We adopted her from an animal adoption event when we visited Vermont a few years ago. She’s grown up to be a bit of a handful but she really is a wonderful part of our family.
Okay, back to YU. There used to be two separate offices of student life. One for Beren and one for WIlf. You were part of the transition to merge them into the unified Office of Student Life we know today. What was that like?
This goes back many many many years. There used to be much more of a distinction between the two campuses about how student activities and student affairs were run. And then in 2011, there was a little bit of a redesign and we came together under one Office of Student Life, which I really think has been a wonderful plus. We have a team at both campuses but now really think of ourselves as advocating for and helping the entire student community, not one criteria for the men and another for the women. We do things jointly and I think that’s why our team has been so successful. We see the bigger picture and often collaborate on both co-ed or campus specific events. But the whole idea is that we bring together all the strengths that each of us have to offer to put together things that work for all of our students.
What parting message do you have for students, perhaps those just beginning their time at YU? How can they make the most of these years?
I would say that while I absolutely appreciate the pressure that our students are under to be successful academically, I think being in college is the time where you get to explore. Take classes you never thought you would take, Maybe try to engage with groups of students you didn’t know before you got to YU. It’s really an opportunity to stretch and to learn. You’re bound to have disappointments, but through disappointments and challenges we learn about ourselves. I would encourage our students to take chances and to think as broadly as they can. Don’t be hard on yourselves. Respect the journey. It’s not always where you wind up, it’s how you get there.
Did you always know you wanted to go into education and a student life-type role?
My undergraduate degree was in the social sciences. I grew up during the ‘70s, which was a very pivotal time for the country. I was very much influenced by things that were happening then. You know, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement. That’s always been sort of ingrained in me … to stand up for those who are underrepresented.
Also, my father was a survivor of the Holocaust. I realized we need to stick together and support each other through life and tragedies. That’s always been a part of me. I think all of this sort of led me into education and where I am today.
How has your Jewish identity informed your experience at YU?
That’s a great question. I didn’t grow up in an Orthodox environment. I’m actually a Reform Jew. But being part of YU is in and of itself an education in the values that make me even more proud to be a Jew. And certainly being in the company of so many rabbis over the years, I’ve had many teachers. Students have also taught me the blessings of Judaism. That’s just one of the many things I’ve gained here.
Last question. What’s something most people don’t know about YU?
Some people on the outside might think that our student body is so homogenous. That’s so not true. There are students that are so unique and such individuals and think so many different ways about every issue you can think of. So while there is a commonality, everyone brings their own perspective to the university and that’s what makes it the place that it is today. We are all different in our own unique god-given ways.
Photo Caption: Linda Stone has left Yeshiva University after 15 years.
Photo Credit: Linda Stone