Fardon, Tetreault and Torres serve as "Excellence in Leadership" panel at Lincoln College inaugural event Friday

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[May 10, 2017]  LINCOLN - As faculty, students, and friends entered the Johnston Center on the Lincoln College campus Friday afternoon, May 5, 2017, the spotlight was on the empty chairs on the stage. 

Soon, however, the distinguished guests for the groundbreaking “Excellence in Leadership" panel took their places and the crowd quieted in anticipation of what advice the three accomplished individuals would share.

oining Lincoln College President Dr. David Gerlach, who moderated the panel were:

  • Zach Fardon, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois

  • Paul R. Tetreault, director of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. and

  • Dara Torres, a five-time Olympian and 12-time medalist in swimming

President Gerlach introduced each one with accolades saying, “Thank you for agreeing to participate in this panel where you come from such diverse backgrounds. I am hoping that that diversity will show difference of leadership, determination, and inspiration, and we will all gain insights from your esteemed careers in words of wisdom. It is my hope that the three of you will bring your own perspectives, but also that your responses may inspire other reactions.”

He went on to explain that he had several questions for the panel to answer but questions from the audience were acceptable and even encouraged.

Many questions were asked in the hour-and-a-half time together, a few select questions follow:

What are you doing now?


Fardon worked as the Presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney in Chicago from 2013 until March 2017 when all U.S. Attorneys were dismissed by President Trump. He is now doing something he has not done in 29 years, taking a break. He is, however, still working on the gun violence issue in Chicago from outside the office.


In 2015 Tetreault and his staff at Ford’s Theatre commemorated the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, which was a huge undertaking as the site was open for 36 hours straight, being covered from around the globe. This past fall he was instrumental in helping with a musical entitled “Come from away,” which was nominated for seven Tony Awards and is currently playing on Broadway to sold out audiences.


Torres joked that all she has done is “jump in the pool and splash around.” Her last Olympics was in 2008. After knee surgery, she met with her coach who encouraged her to try one more time. After he passed away, she went on training but missed the 2012 Olympic team by 9/100th of a second. Since that time, she has moved on with her life. She is currently working on a talk show, “We need to talk,” the first all-female sports talk show. She is also working on a brand for “Age is just a number.”

What was it that made you decide to work in the career that you worked in and what was a pivotal moment?


Torres has 4 older brothers and because of her competitive energy she wanted to do whatever they did. When they jumped in the pool, she followed. She was only 15 when she broke her first World Record and that is when she thought about trying for the Olympic games. The pivotal moment for her, was when she made the Olympic team at the age of 17.

TV has always been a passion, she thought it would be important for her to learn what happened behind the scenes before she got in front of the camera. She worked on a lot of different shows to learn about sports technology so she would be well rounded knowing about more than just swimming.


Tetreault joked that he got into theatre after “playing a table” in grade school. In High School he “majored” in drama club. He always had a knack for numbers so he went to college for a business degree but immediately started to be in plays and thought “this is crazy.” He transferred to a college for theatre.

He has always been involved in the theatre. His pivotal moment happened thirteen years ago when a headhunter called and asked him to come to Ford’s Theatre to turn the theatre around.


Fardon has spent the bulk of his career as a lawyer in the criminal justice system. The pivotal moment for him happened in 1992, just after he graduated from law school. Griffin Bell needed a “lackey” to help with the investigation into Iran-Contra after Lawrence Walsh accused President Bush of misconduct.

Fardon said, “I was the one sitting at my desk” when he (Bell) called.

Who was your favorite teacher (K-12) and why would you claim them as your favorite?


Fardon suggested that he was not a very good student. He only had one teacher, a 10th grade physics teacher, who took him aside and said “Look Fardon, you’re either going to end up under a bridge or President of the United States. You need to decide which one of those two it’s going to be.”

The teacher who is not looking for the student with a polished apple is the teacher that is going to make a difference. It is the teacher who can recognize a kid with potential that is special.


Torres recognized her Latin teacher who pushed her. As an average student, Torres knew she would get into a prestigious school because of her swimming, but it was this teacher who made her want to be better than just an average student.


Tetreault pointed out that he was on a panel with three average students who didn’t really apply themselves in school. He recognized his 10th grade U.S. history teacher who utilized theatre to make history come alive.

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They learned about slave trade, Abraham Lincoln, and Civil War by acting out the events. It was certainly the first “A” Tetreault received because a teacher taught in a different and unique way.

If you had it do over again, what would you change?


Tetreault would have listened a lot more early on. He would have taken advantage of opportunities that came his way.


Torres likes to learn from her mistakes; unsure that she would “change” things because each mistake has made her who she is today. However, if there is something that she needs to work on, it would be patience.


Fardon does not regret any of his major life decisions. Having said that, he would suggest to students to “relish every moment. Take stock in important moments.” It’s hard to know that until you are past it, but each phase of your career is exciting and so we forget to appreciate it more.

What keeps motivating you to do what you do?


Tetreault hates to sound corny but “young people. The salvation of our country is young people.” Over 750,000 people visit Ford’s Theatre each year and half of them are young people. That’s the future. We are probably the ones who screwed things up. It’s the young people that are going to fix it.”

According to Tetreault, he holds a lot of faith in that hope.


Torres always wants to be better. She tweeted, after Michael Phelps quit swimming, “Who wants to bet that he’s not done.” He tweeted back, “I’ll bet you that I’m done.” Torres suggested she should have taken that bet.

Athletes have a mentality to always do better and that is what motivated her to keep going.


Fardon is motivated by the idea that he impacts people's lives in a very profound way. He is in a career where most are motivated by money, but he is grateful for work that he does that is not about money, but about work that matters.

Greatest accomplishment, greatest risk, greatest failure - in one word:


Her daughter is her greatest accomplishment.

Competing in her fifth Olympic games was her greatest risk.

When asked about her failure she responded, “What failure?”


His greatest accomplishment is being a dad.

His greatest risk was leaving a lucrative law office in Washington, D.C. for a 300% pay cut to be a public defender.

His failure was “not winning 12 Olympic medals.”


His greatest accomplishment was meeting Laura Bush in 2004.

Greatest risk is “to be true to yourself.”

What is your contribution to leadership qualities of people who look up to you?


As a leader and as a boss you want to tell people what to do. But since we all make mistakes, Tetreault likes to say to the people he works with, “Make mistakes, but let’s make new ones.” He doesn’t ask others for perfection, he asks them to keep learning.


For Torres, it is important to be selfless in sports. It is important for people to learn from her by example.


Fardon has never asked someone to do something that he is not willing to do himself. “What you say and how you say it matters.”

The panel ended the afternoon with these thoughts:


Torres thanked Lincoln College for the invitation and the opportunity to sit on the panel. “What a great idea.”


Tetreault suggested that there is something in all of us that is unique. “Find, and run with it.”


Fardon concluded the discussion by saying “What you do and how you do it on your not-so-best day is what will help you succeed.”

Dr. Gerlach concluded the afternoon by thanking the panel for participating, the audience for coming, and wishing the graduating students the best of luck.

If you missed this groundbreaking event, you missed a great afternoon. Lincoln College plans to have more opportunities like this one so be watching for details about future events.

[Lisa Ramlow]


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