Lieberman shares life story in final lecture

University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman presents her last lecture Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Lieberman, La Verne’s 18th president, is stepping down from her position this summer. / photo by Nareg Agopian
University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman presents her last lecture Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Lieberman, La Verne’s 18th president, is stepping down from her position this summer. / photo by Nareg Agopian

Kael Matias
Staff Writers

University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman presented “Stringing the Pearls,” where she reflected on the lessons learned throughout her life, at the Quay Davis Executive Board Room at noon on Tuesday. 

Lieberman is retiring as president of the University after 12 years in the position. She is the first female president in the entire history of ULV after stepping into the role in 2011.

In her reflection, Lieberman took the audience back to her formative years as a child. She recalls being with her father and brothers reading from Pirkei Avot, a guide with teachings based on Jewish traditions.

A saying Lieberman takes to heart is “Find a teacher, acquire a friend.” Throughout her lecture, she often referred back to this teaching.

“What I found most interesting was when she decided to go to Israel,” Caroline Guzman, a freshman honors child development major, said. “From there she developed her own characteristics to the person she is today.”

She said a defining moment in her life was when she traveled to Israel during her college years. During her time in Israel, Lieberman felt disappointed with the interactions she witnessed between Palestinians and Israelis.

“I came to a realization that my purpose had to do with working with people who are from different cultures, different backgrounds, different ethnicities and getting the tools to cross those lines of difference,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman then returned to continue her education. She went on to complete her associate’s degree at Mt. San Antonio College, then received her bachelor’s from Humboldt State University and received her master’s degree from San Diego State University.

Early into her career as an educator, Lieberman learned that to help cross those lines of difference, she needed more experience and to expand her knowledge.

“I needed more education and tools to help people cross lines of difference,” Lieberman said. “I needed international exposure.”

Alfred Korzybski’s “Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics” was a key guide for Lieberman. The book taught Lieberman general semantics, which she used in her professional life and intercultural interactions.

Lieberman went on to Europe to teach at institutions in Switzerland and Greece. During her time abroad, Lieberman became fluent in French, Greek and Hebrew.

Soon after, Lieberman returned from Europe to receive her doctorate in intercultural communication and gerontology.

In 1987, Lieberman joined Portland State University as an assistant professor. During her 16 years there, she met the president of Wagner College, Richard Guarasci, who offered her the provost position at Wagner College.

She assumed the role in 2004 and moved to New York. As a provost, she recalls conferences with other University provosts and presidents from around the country who were much different from her.

“I really liked how, even though she didn’t come from a privileged background, she made it something to be proud of,” Elizabeth Hernandez, sophomore honors political science and philosophy major, said.

Lieberman said she remembered that many of them came from prestigious private institutions. She said she felt intimidated being the only person to attend only public institutions.

“For the rest of my life, I will never apologize for where I came from, who I am today and where I’m going,” Lieberman said. “I never want us to apologize for our University or our students to ever apologize for their background or where they came from.”

She also reflected on a personal experience with her daughter, Emery, who traveled to India to study abroad. When asked to reflect on her experience, Emery said, “Growth begins when comfort ends”, a lesson Lieberman took to heart.

In 2011, Lieberman became the University’s first female president. A pivotal moment during her presidency was the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she remembers sending the email to inform the University that everything was going online.

“I feel like president Lieberman has done a great job overcoming her obstacles,” Alexia Daniels, sophomore political science major, said. “As a woman, it’s truly inspiring to see women excel in their careers.”

Despite University operations going online, Lieberman said she wanted to ensure that the University would still provide safe and quality education.

Lieberman said much of her decision to retire as president was influenced by a family health issue. She said she had to decide where to put her time and energy. 

Kael Matias can be reached at kael.matias@laverne.edu

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