This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 Dana Hall Bulletin.
The timing of her 30th Dana Hall Reunion was not ideal for Elizabeth “Liz” Leyne ’93. The festivities were scheduled for the weekend before her move from Washington, D.C. to Europe, so she could begin her new role at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) leading a Division serving the four-star chief of the U.S. military in Europe and commander of NATO’s military.
But when she learned she was the recipient of Dana Hall’s 2023 Distinguished Alumna Award, Leyne knew she had to make her way to Wellesley, to connect with friends and former teachers and publicly express thanks to both the School and the many people who have supported her and cheered her success.
Leyne has served in key leadership positions for 17 years at DIA. Over this past year, she directly served the three-star Director of DIA, leading his Commander’s Action Group. She was previously the Division Chief of Analysis for Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula; Leyne was also the President’s Daily Briefer to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She was a National Security Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School for a year, where she published a research paper on the opportunities and challenges for the Intelligence Community in the Digital Age. For more than a decade, she led multiple counterterrorism analysis teams, deploying three times to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2008 and 2013, where she directly advised the Commanding General-Iraq and other senior U.S., Iraqi, and Afghan military and political leaders.
In many ways, the origin of her career path is tied to Dana Hall and one specific class. “Alexandra Siemon truly changed the trajectory of my life,” Leyne shared when she accepted the Distinguished Alumna Award at the Reunion Dinner on April 28. “Her Middle Eastern Studies class made me so passionate about the region that when I went to college, I decided to minor in Arab and Islamic Studies. I went to one of my professors my senior year and asked, ‘how do I move to the Middle East after I graduate?’ That passion for the Middle East carried on throughout my career with the Department of Defense. But that spark and inspiration started at Dana Hall with Ms. Siemon.”
Leyne earned a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science and a minor in Arab & Islamic studies from Villanova University as well as a master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University. Prior to DIA, she consulted for the United Nations Development Programme in New York and South Africa, worked at technology firms in Cambridge, Mass. and New York City, and was a Fulbright researcher in Jordan for a year.
At her reunion, Leyne was able to reconnect with influential teachers, including Siemon and Linda Samuels P93, as well as catch up with her classmates. “When I think of Dana Hall, I think of all of the successful women who have come out of this great institution. Looking just at the Class of 1993, we have CEOs; we have doctors; we have lawyers; we have entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, and a founder of an NGO in India; we have a diplomat. I’m just honored to be a peer to these women.”
Leyne also feels an enormous sense of gratitude to her family, who made sacrifices to send her to Dana Hall. “I’m the oldest of four, and my father was a police officer in Somerville, with an extra painting business on the side. It was not an easy choice to send me to Dana,” she said, recalling that her mother used to get up at 5 a.m. to drive her to campus by 6 a.m., so she then could get back to Lexington to ready Leyne’s three younger siblings for school. “My mom and dad gave me the greatest gift of all, which is that of a world-class education at Dana Hall School. I am forever indebted to them.”
“Dana Hall truly changed me as a person,” Leyne said. “The School challenged me in every way possible. It made me really think about who I am as a person and what I want out of life.”