How in the world does the self-described “worst pledge ever” become
Zeta Tau Alpha’s Outstanding Alumnae? By traveling the world to report breaking
news with the ongoing support of her sisters.
Leinwand Leger almost did not join a sorority; she withdrew from Formal
Recruitment at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a freshman.
“I asked myself, ‘How am I supposed to pick a sorority based on a tea party?’”
Instead, she picked one based on friendships she made with Zetas on campus.
“They were serious, smart, ambitious, nice and funny,” Donna said. She
registered for Recruitment as a sophomore with the hope of of joining ZTA,
pledged in 1986 and was initiated in 1987.
soon found her dedication to journalism kept her from many Theta Tau Chapter
activities. At The Daily Tar Heel, she advanced from reporter to state and
national news editor to managing editor. “I missed meetings. I missed
sisterhood events. I missed a lot,” Donna said. “Nearly every night, one of my
sisters would bring me a Styrofoam box ‘late plate’ at the paper. ZTA was an
anchor—the place where I learned the value of female friends.”
After graduation in 1989, Donna covered crime
and poverty for the Miami Herald and found those valuable ZTA friends in the
Greater Ft. Lauderdale, FL Alumnae Chapter. “That chapter was so vibrant and
exciting,” she said. “We were very social, but we also wanted to find a serious
Donna connected the chapter with the social service personnel she had
met while writing stories about older foster children in need of families. For
many years, the chapter raised money to host Halloween parties so prospective
foster and adoptive parents could interact with the children. “It was our
signature event and it kept me from devoting my whole life to work,” she said.
Moving to Washington, D.C., in 1997, Donna worked for Knight Ridder and
Gannett News Service before joining USA Today in 2000 as a breaking news
reporter, traveling the world to cover terrorism, the war in Iraq, bombings,
tsunamis, earthquakes and more than 20 hurricanes. She became USA Today’s
breaking news editor in 2015.
Through it all, she has cherished her ZTA connections, including the
Washington, D.C. Alumnae Chapter. “Women in D.C. struggle with the pressure to
be successful,” Donna said. “I was a war correspondent—a super male-dominated
field. I needed friends, to mentor and be mentored. Our chapter is a supportive
environment where sisters want to help you succeed.”
Donna believes being a ZTA alumnae officer taught her to be comfortable
speaking in public and meeting community leaders, which eventually led her on a
path to the presidency of the National Press Club.
For 20 years, Donna’s career and dedication
to ZTA have developed side-by-side. As a member of the Journalism and Women
Symposium, she lives by their motto to help another woman every day. “And I
learned that from Zeta Tau Alpha,” Donna said, “the very important notion that
you look out for, help and serve other women every day.”
Click here to view the brochure of all past recipients of the Outstanding Alumna Award.