An Interview with Board of Regents President Stacie Rice Lissette ’85, P ’14, ’14, ’17, ’23
Stacie Rice Lissette ’85, a member of Mercersburg Academy’s Board of Regents for 20 years, became the 18th president of the Board in July 2020. In the role, she succeeds Deborah Simon ’74, who retired from the Board after 22 years of service, including four years as president (2016 to 2020).
Student Council President Ryan Bland ’21 conducted the following interview with Lissette virtually. The interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
RYAN BLAND: After serving on the Board of Regents for 20 years, you are now the president of the Board. What has it been like to assume this leadership position in such an unusual time, given the pandemic?
STACIE LISSETTE: When I was voted the next president, it was before the pandemic, and we had no idea this was going to happen. Going into the position, I knew what the goals were going to be and what I thought we were going to work on, but just like everything else, suddenly the world changed pretty quickly.
I’m thankful that the school was positioned well to handle the pandemic; we went into this really difficult time in a strong position, and I know that a lot other schools don’t have that sort of privilege. I’m really thankful we are in such a good place because that has made it more manageable. Of course, we all wish the pandemic hadn’t happened and I’m so heartbroken and devastated for what everybody has had to go through, but I do feel thankful that our school was positioned to handle it.
We have a great team, and I really want to make sure I give full credit to the rest of the Board and to our school leaders and dedicated faculty and staff. We have such a dedicated and fantastic group of Board members, most of whom are alumni and others who are current parents or past parents. We are also really fortunate to have such a wonderful and caring and thoughtful faculty and staff. They make my job really easy, so I’m very grateful.
RB: How is the Board connected to Mercersburg, and what are its goals and initiatives for the next few years?
SL: Many of us are alumni. I graduated in 1985 and my husband, Dylan, and I are the parents of three graduates [Payton ’14, Max ’14, and Alex ’17] and a current student [Colin ’23]. A lot of us on the Board either have had children attend Mercersburg or have children there now.
The Board’s main goal is always to set the strategic vision for the school, and we are very focused on that. We are going through a strategic realignment with school leadership, and at the same time, we are revisiting our by-laws and are in the process of amending them. So we’re getting our governance ducks in a row, and we are creating a playbook by following NAIS [National Association of Independent Schools] best practices. All of the committees are looking at what should we be doing in terms of committee charges and charters.
Some of our focus has been a continued commitment to access and affordability, which the pandemic has made even more important as we continue to look at financial aid and scholarships, making sure we are finding ways to attract the best and brightest students and to help the kids that need the financial assistance to be here.
Also, just as the entire country is doing, we are looking at DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion], which is extremely important. I feel good that our school was a little bit ahead of that curve, but we are continuing to partner with Head of School Katie Titus in that work, and making sure that that is at the forefront of what the school is focusing on—and making sure that we on the Board are focusing on that as well. We haven’t always been as diverse as we should be, so we’re putting ourselves under the lens and asking what we can do better.
So, we have these initiatives that we’re really focused on, and I feel excited about it—we just have to keep pushing.
RB: What about your time at Mercersburg was transformative for you, and how did that inspire you to give back to the school in your adult life?
SL: I just love Mercersburg so much! I come from Hanover, Pennsylvania, a small town right outside of Gettysburg, and growing up, I felt like people here had a lot of similar perspectives. My town did not have a lot of diversity in some ways. I traveled a lot with my family when I was young, and I was exposed to people of other backgrounds. I realized there was this whole other world out there, and I wanted to be somewhere where I could get to know people from different backgrounds and different experiences.
I was lucky because two of my dear friends—who were older than me—went to Mercersburg. And I was always seeking ways to be challenged more. For me, Mercersburg was this small microcosm of the world and helped me meet people from all over the world. I had gone to a larger public school, but Mercersburg opened the world up to me. I felt challenged, yet safe to do things I wouldn’t have done; I wasn’t very athletic, but I played a couple sports and I felt comfortable and I felt welcome. Mercersburg taught me to get out of my comfort zone.
I went on to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for my undergraduate education, and then I went to George Washington Law School, and I always say that Mercersburg was the best four years of my education by far. There’s just something about it.
And also the friendships I’ve formed—they’re lifelong. Even now, during this pandemic, my class has reconnected. We’ve had reunions through Zoom. I hope you find the same thing when you leave Mercersburg, Ryan; that the connections you make there will carry through your life whether you see those people routinely or not.
I’m really focused on philanthropy—my parents are very philanthropic, so they instilled in me the desire to give back. So for me, serving on the Board was a natural fit. I was asked to join the Board in my late 20s, and I have such a passion for Mercersburg and what it has provided for young people that I feel blessed and thankful to give back to a place that has done so much for me. I hope that I’m able to make even a small difference in helping the school succeed, and to help the school provide this experience to even more students.
RB: Over the past several years, the Board has welcomed a number of younger alumni to its group. As someone who joined the Board as a young alumna and has now been on the Board for many years, how does the Board embrace that young leadership and perspective?
SL: We made a concerted effort and decision when we changed our by-laws a few years ago and decided to ensure that we have a number of young-alumni Regents on the Board—we always have at least three “young alumni,” which means they graduated in the past 15 years. It’s really important to have that voice and perspective of people who graduated more recently on the Board. I think they bring different yet really valuable perspectives, and they always jump right in and step up—our young alumni Regents are superstars.
We’ve had some fantastic young alumni Regents, and all of us have really missed being able to be on campus to connect with the students, everyone else on campus, and our alumni.
RB: As Board president, you are succeeding Ms. Deborah Simon ’74, who really transformed Mercersburg through her giving, devotion, and leadership to the school. Could you share what it was like to work alongside Ms. Simon and how you feel about being her successor?
SL: I really enjoyed working with Debbie. She has an incredible devotion to Mercersburg, and she loves the school. It was really fun to work with her. I was on the Board for nine years, then stepped away for a few years, came back, and some of the people I served with the first time were still there. She was one of them. We all became friends. We all have the same passion and love for the school—the same care and concern for Mercersburg and devotion to it. I’m so grateful for everything she has done for the school.
There’s a group of us—the other former presidents, some of whom I served under—that I stay in touch with. Most of them were men, so many of them are father figures to me, but I really look up to them and respect them. In taking this role, I feel a sense of responsibility to live up to the legacy that they have left me—including Debbie. I want to make sure I do right by living up to their legacies. It’s a responsibility but I feel so honored to be able to do it and I hope I can do a good job like they did!
RB: In a broader sense, what do you hope to accomplish over your time as president?
SL: I definitely would love for us to complete the strategic vision, but here’s the thing about a strategic vision: even though you put it in place as the vision for the next three, five, or seven years, it always has to be a living document. It has to be able to change. I’d like us to get it set, but in a way that it can be flexible.
Along with that, we are working on the campus master plan, and we’ve hired an outside group to help look at it. The strategic design and campus master plan go hand in hand. We did a facilities assessment a couple years ago that looked at the status and shape of the grounds, the buildings, the infrastructure, and the technology, and the areas we’ll need to support going forward.
We have some ideas about what buildings might need to be renovated, what projects are coming up, and some of those things will be driven by the strategic vision. For example, if we’re thinking Irvine Hall needs some updates, some of those changes may be determined by what the strategic vision is for what the academic program will look like.
And then usually what flows from that—and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here—is some sort of campaign. I know for sure access and affordability will be extremely critical in any campaign we do, because the Board is absolutely committed to the idea of raising more money for financial aid. I know we’ve said this before, we would love to get as close to need-blind as possible, so that we can accept as many bright and fantastic students as we can and give them whatever aid they need. Right now, we have a financial-aid pool that we draw from, and we are able to do a lot with it, but there is always need for more and we always hope for more.
RB: What does Mercersburg mean to you and your family?
SL: I’m so thankful that my kids have been able to go here, and for me, it just feels like home. You probably get that feeling already as a student, but I’m going to tell you right now: when I drive down Route 16, and I see the Chapel spire, and I drive onto campus, I still get a lump in my throat. I can go to Mercersburg multiple times a week, and I still feel like I’m coming home. There’s something about spending those transformative years of your life that are such critical years, and the people—the faculty, the staff, my friends, and my friendships with the faculty and staff and Regents now—I just feel so thankful for them.
And with my kids, I’ve watched it unfold for them. My oldest kids are 24 now, and they graduated in 2014, and when they get together with their Mercersburg friends, you can just see that they feel like that’s family. We all have that same feeling of home, family, connection to Mercersburg—it’s more than just a place. It’s hard to even put words to what it means to me.
I’m big into gratitude, and I know we all have an immense amount of gratitude for what the school did for us, for what it continues to do us, and for what we know it’s doing for others, including the faculty and staff and their families and for today’s students and future students. That’s really important.