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WSB-TV's Jonathan Serrie '87C has covered everything from floods to the Olympics

One of Jonathan Serrie's first assignments for WSB-TV was a live report from the station's helicopter on the traffic congestion caused by Freaknik, the annual spring break bash that can overwhelm Atlanta's highways and byways. Serrie recalls being more than a little nervous speeding over the city at 120 miles per hour in the tiny chopper. The altitude and tension caused his powers of observation to seize up, and when it came time to describe the scene live to the audience, he began to state the obvious.

"I became disoriented up there and didn't know which direction was which," says Serrie, who earned his bachelor's degree in English and political science from Emory in 1987. "So I said, `And if you notice the red lights are tail lights, and the white lights are headlights,' and then I went on and finished the report. The next day, [Atlanta talk radio personality] Neal Boortz was just ragging on me. He said, `What's the deal? They don't let this little kid finish high school before they put him up in the chopper?' So people started coming up to me saying, Oh, don't let Neal Boortz hold you down; you're doing a great job. And actually, bad press is better than no press, and it got me a lot of notoriety from the absolutely stupid comments I made up in that helicopter."

Since that somewhat inauspicious beginning two years ago, Serrie has gone on to cover some major stories for WSB, including the devastating South Georgia floods of 1994, the racially charged burning of a high school in Wedowee, Alabama, and the Olympics. But of all the stories he has reported, the one that affected him most was the Susan Smith infanticide case. After it had been announced in the fall of 1994 that Smith's two small children had been allegedly abducted from her in a carjacking, Serrie spent two weeks in Union, South Carolina, covering the story as it unfolded.

"We were all skeptical of Susan Smith's story," he says. "It was bizarre. It's really uncommon for a complete stranger, unrelated to the family, to kidnap children. But we had all assumed that she was going through a divorce, and she was probably harboring the kids somewhere. So when they announced they had found the kids, there was this tension there. Everyone was waiting to find out what happened. And when the sheriff finally came out, and we were covering it live, and he announced that Susan Smith has been arrested for the murders, as soon as he said the word `murders,' there was a gasp from the crowd behind us. There was even a gasp within the press corps, and I felt my heart sink, because it was a total surprise. We knew Susan Smith was lying, but we didn't know how badly she was lying."

A number of factors led to Serrie's interest in TV journalism, including youthful experiments with a home movie camera, an aunt who worked for NBC News, and a stint as editor in chief of the Wheel. While at Emory, he interned at CNN, and during vacations he worked at a small station in his hometown of Sarasota. Ironically, he says the local station was a more enriching experience. "The most valuable internship was that tiny little station in Sarasota," he says. "At the time I was interning, it was so tiny they would let their interns go on the air and deliver reports. You got to do everything." For anyone considering trying to get into the extremely competitive field of TV journalism, Serrie's advice is to start small as he did. "Everyone wants to intern with the networks, and if you do that you're just going to be getting people coffee," he says. "You want to find the most podunk operation that will let you do whatever you want to do."

After graduating from Emory, Serrie went to work full time for that Sarasota station as a general assignment reporter. Two years later, he took a job at the NBC affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina, where he worked first as a bureau chief, then as a reporter, and finally as the morning news anchor. Serrie had always wanted to come back to Atlanta, which he "had fallen in love with in college," and in March 1994 he got a job offer from WSB. The Atlanta station boasts the highest local ratings of any major market newscast in America, and Serrie says the day he was offered the job was "the best day of my professional life."

Recently Serrie has begun taking on the more high-profile task of anchoring the station's weekend newscast. He says the added notoriety can be a mixed blessing. "It's a totally different beast than reporting," he says. "The anchor desk is what everyone sees, and you get all of the credit. You're out in the field busting your butt, and you have much less recognition than if you just sit on the anchor desk for fifteen minutes. There's a celebrity thing associated with it, and in some ways it's really flattering, and in some ways I'm really uneasy with it. Sometimes it's an awkward feeling when too many people are recognizing you."--J.D.T.

Chace awards high honor to Argentina's Menem

On July 19, the day of the Opening Ceremonies of the Centennial Olympic Games, University President William M. Chace presented His Excellency Carlos Saúl Menem, President of Argentina, with the Emory President's Medal. "[President Menem's] encouragement of democracy and his shoring up of the economic vitality of his country make it appropriate for Emory to recognize him in a special way," President Chace told a gathering at the Cherokee Town Club of Atlanta. One of the highest honors granted by the University, the President's Medal recognizes individuals whose impact on the world has enhanced the dominion of peace or has enlarged the range of cultural achievement. It was first awarded in September 1995 to His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

"Owing in part to the alliances you have forged," President Chace read from the medal citation, "the Americas are more secure and, like Argentina itself, enjoy the freedoms of democracy to a degree unprecedented."

Thanking the University, President Menem said, "It is a great pleasure to be in Atlanta, which has, at this time, become the capital city for peace and understanding among all nations. . . . I hope that Argentina in some way will have humbly made our own modest contribution, so that peace may finally settle in the world."--A.O.A.

Photo by Ann Borden


A new program in Asian Studies expands the University's global scope

Launched last fall, Emory's Asian Studies Program is flourishing with the support and interest of world leaders, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and University President Emeritus and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea James T. Laney.

"When we first met," says President William M. Chace, "[President Carter] expressed some disappointment that we had not done all we could do, with respect to our curriculum, in building a strong program to represent that part of the world." This fall, more than twenty courses will be offered under the auspices of the new program, which is introducing several new courses and uniting some existing courses in disciplines including anthropology, literature, film studies, sociology, political science, history, religion, and Asian languages.

Recently, President Carter joined an Emory contingent led by President Chace for part of a seventeen-day trip to Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The party met with Emory alumni in that region and worked to generate support for the Asian Studies Program. In Seoul, the group visited Ambassador Laney, who helped them "meet the people who might prove most interested in Emory's future prospects," President Chace says.

According to Paul Courtright, professor of religion and director of the Asian Studies Program, the presence of some forty-five faculty members with expertise in West and South Asian studies, as well as an emerging student interest, contributed to the strength of the plan. The Office of the Registrar reports that 8.4 percent (nearly one thousand) of Emory's students identify themselves as Asian or Asian-American, compared to 2 percent a decade ago.

Vikram Gopal, a 1996 Emory College graduate and former president of the student-run Indian Cultural Exchange, was involved in efforts to encourage University administrators to establish the program. A second-generation Indian-American, Gopal says, "I've been raised with Indian values in a Western society. That comes with a lot of social and cultural struggles, eye-opening experiences, and decisions. Where do you find the balance between the two? There was a major void in the world picture at Emory that Asian studies will help fill."--A.O.A.


Jeffrey D. Meyer '88C takes a light look at the law

Did you know it's illegal to slap an old friend on the back in Georgia? Or that fishing from horseback is a crime in Utah? According to the book Legal Briefs, co-authored by 1988 Emory College graduate Jeffrey D. Meyer, dozens of oddball laws like those are on the books. "Most of them," the authors write, "had some significance when they were originally enacted but have not been overruled or repealed due to legal inertia. Although most of the laws are not enforced, they will still have you shaking your head."

Meyer's book also contains chapters on legal trivia, unusual cases, common misconceptions about the law, and legal wit--for example, Robert Frost once said, "A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has a better lawyer."

Meyer, who earned his law degree from Ohio State University in 1991, says he worked for about a year and a half in his spare time pulling together information for Legal Briefs. "It entailed going to libraries, looking at a lot of different books on crazy cases and legal terms, and going on-line on the different computer data bases and getting law-related information," he explains. Meyer, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works as in-house counsel for a real estate company, says one of the most interesting things he turned up was that while only five percent of the world's population lives in the United States, seventy percent of all lawyers call America home. "That's pretty crazy," he says.

However, just because most of the world's attorneys live in this country doesn't mean other nations don't have their share of loopy laws. Here are a few that Meyer found for his book:

Working in concert

Thanks to renovations to the former Emory Baptist Church on North Decatur Road, the Emory College music department is now working in harmony. After many years of being housed in three separate facilities, the department is now under one roof in the renovated space and is enjoying a new performing arts studio in the transformed 6,500-square-foot church sanctuary. The studio features retractable seating for up to two hundred and fifty, as well as a box office, lobby, sound and light equipment, and a maple sprung floor. The former church's education and administrative building, now known as the Burlington Road Building, has been renovated to make room for rehearsal, practice, studio, classroom, and office space.--A.O.A.

Photo by Annmarie Poyo


Alumnus and blacksmith Alan Rogers '93PhD brings his metalworking talent to television

Several years before entering Emory's graduate program in history in 1985, Alan Rogers attended the Eastern School of Farriery in Martinsville, Virginia, and began his own farriery business. Soon, though, he was making much more than horseshoes. He was fashioning out of metal such objects as dining chairs, a wine rack, and a coffee table.

"Except for the basics I learned when I was in horseshoeing school, I taught myself everything I know about working steel," he says. "In the 1950s and '60s, when our culture rejected handmade things for a total obsession with technology and plastic, this kind of craft was seen as obsolete. It nearly disappeared, and it's something that needs to be perpetuated. Now, there are fifteen thousand blacksmith hobbyists in various guilds and organizations in the United States."

Rogers earned his Ph.D. degree from Emory in 1993, but instead of leaping onto the academic fast track, he turned to metalwork full time. He now makes his living as a blacksmith, creating fine furniture and architectural details from steel in a shop behind his home in Walnut Grove, Georgia. His work, he says, is often inspired by architectural shapes he observed in the British Isles while researching his dissertation on the development of sixteenth-century horsemanship and veterinary medicine. For example, a series of his tables features arch systems based on the vaults of Gothic cathedrals.

"My historical study strongly dominates the shapes I select," Rogers says. "When I was doing my research, I took a sketchbook everywhere I went, all over the countryside. I would come to churches with incredible shapes and pieces of ironwork, and I'd draw them. You could find Gothic forms in everything people saw [in medieval culture]. I see these images in my mind, and I try to put them into steel."

Most of Rogers' clients are architects and builders. He averages about twelve customers a year and can put up to two months into a project. Much of his work, both original and restorative, can be viewed in the gate entrances or staircase banisters of upscale Atlanta homes. His furniture, often found inside those homes, ranges from beds to baker's racks.

Rogers believes what distinguishes his work is the hand-wrought look that comes from his adherence to traditional methods. His primary tools are the hammer, forge, and anvil. "I only use modern tools [such as a welding torch] when it's absolutely essential," he says. "If I used a whole lot of machines, my work would be smooth and perfect. And who wants that?"

In the fall of 1995, Rogers' television series, "Forge and Anvil," premiered on Georgia Public Television. Produced in the tradition of shows like "This Old House" and "The Woodwright's Shop," Rogers' program, which he originated, hosts, and co-produces, sets out both to inform and entertain. Visits with some of the nation's master blacksmiths are interspersed with basic instructions on hand-forging tools, weapons, furniture, architectural details, horseshoes, and sculpture. Rogers even demonstrates how to make a forge with supplies you can get in one trip to the hardware store.

"I wanted the show to have a flexible format that could be regenerated each season," Rogers says. "We go from visiting a guy who makes tools for the granite industry in Elberton, Georgia, to making a chair or a trivet here in my workshop."--A.O.A.


Former elite marathon runner Bob Varsha '77L is a commentator for ESPN

As an announcer for the all-sports cable network ESPN, Bob Varsha has covered myriad events, including Formula One auto racing, track and field, motorcycle racing, speed skating, and swimming. But when asked if there's one sport he enjoys reporting on most, he says no. For Varsha, it's the variety that keeps him going.

"I'd be hard pressed to pick one sport I like," says the 1977 School of Law graduate who lives near Emory in the Morningside neighborhood. "I'm a storyteller, and what I do in a broadcast really doesn't change that much from event to event. I basically put some perspective on things, tell people what it is they're looking at, why it's important, and who the main players are.

"And because the job I do doesn't really change that much, it's probably the spectrum of things I do, the variety, that makes it fun and challenging."

Varsha has done more than just talk about sports. A former elite distance runner who competed for Dartmouth College, he took a year off during law school to train for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in 1976. After qualifying, he placed sixth in the race in a blistering time of 2:15:50.

It was Varsha's running that eventually led him to a career in television. In the late 1970s, he was hired as the first executive director of the Atlanta Track Club, and part of his job was organizing the July Fourth Peachtree Road Race. In 1980, Turner Broadcasting was putting together a package of programming to celebrate Independence Day, and they wanted to kick it off with the start of the race. "They needed someone who knew something about the race to comment, and somehow my name came up, and they hired me," says Varsha. "I did the show, and about six weeks later they called back and wanted to know if I'd be interested in a part-time job doing news and sports."

For the next four years, Varsha worked as an attorney and moonlighted on television. He says he began by doing "the little twenty-five second news blurbs on TBS during the movie commercial breaks. Usually the late-night shift was mine because I worked during the day."

Varsha gradually began doing less law and more work for Turner and eventually ended up as a weekday sports anchor on CNN. He later left that network to work for an independent Atlanta production company, and contacts he made there led him to join ESPN in 1986.

He estimates he will do some two hundred broadcasts for ESPN this year, most of them focused around motor racing. He is also the host of "MotoWorld," a weekly program devoted to motorcycle racing.

Varsha admits it's odd that he started off in law school and ended up in front of the camera as a sports announcer. "It's very strange," he says. "From time to time I'll be contacted by journalism schools, and they'll want me to be part of a panel about how you get a job in the media. And I haven't the faintest idea, because my job found me. But I suppose law school was as good a preparation as you could get, just from the point of view of telling a story and thinking on your feet."--J.D.T.

Library addition a one-stop shop for information

Billed as a "one-stop" information resource, the 60,000-square-foot addition to the Robert W. Woodruff Library recently began to take shape. The space will house the Center for Library and Information Resources, a state-of-the-art information technology facility.

A joint effort of the University's General Libraries and the Information Technology Division, the center will provide library users with greater work space and research capacities, combining the expertise of librarians, multimedia professionals, and technology specialists.

The addition, which will span the ravine now occupied by the bridge between the Woodruff and Candler libraries, will extend the three lower floors of the Woodruff Library toward Candler Library and will include a fourth floor that will rise to the height of Candler. When construction is complete, the ravine will be relandscaped with a variety of indigenous plants and trees.

"Replanting and landscaping will afford a creative opportunity to develop and maintain this area after years of neglect," says Joan Gotwals, vice provost and director of libraries. "The result will be the restoration of the natural environment, with a free-flowing stream and an abundance of greenery."--A.O.A.


Trip Payne '90C is one of America's premier crossword puzzlers

For many people, tackling The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle can begin with their juice and coffee in the morning and last throughout the day. Trip Payne, however, usually only needs ten minutes to fill in all the squares. "If it's a fair puzzle, I usually won't get stumped," he says.

While that may sound brash, Payne brings some serious credentials to the breakfast table. A 1990 graduate of Emory College with a degree in English, he recently came in second in the nineteenth Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, a competition he won in 1993. He constructs crossword puzzles for a living, and some two thousand of his creations have been featured in such publications as TV Guide, The New York Times, Games, and Newsday.

The first crossword puzzle Payne remembers solving was in TV Guide when he was only three or four years old. Soon after that success, he was creating his own simple crossword grids, and by the time he was fifteen he'd had his first puzzle accepted nationally, in Games. During high school and college, he continued constructing and submitting puzzles, and on summer breaks from Emory he worked as an editor at Games in New York City. "Over that time I just built up my skill and learned the tricks of the trade," he says.

Now the twenty-seven-year-old is considered part of the new wave of crossword puzzle constructors. "That basically means I don't put anything really obscure into my puzzles," he says. "I'm more interested in putting in things that are fun or sticking in modern phrases like `web page' or `no can do' because those are more fun to actually get the `ah ha' from than some Acadian river or something." Depending on the size of the puzzle, Payne says it can take him anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to build one. "It just depends on how well it's flowing," he explains.

Payne spends about forty hours a week knocking out puzzles for his various clients. And even though his schedule can become quite hectic, he says there's nothing he'd rather be doing. "I love the fact that I can do what I like to do," he says. "It's rare, and I'm lucky. I have no complaints at all."--J.D.T.

Classic Performances

The 1996-97 Emory Classic Performances season features appearances by many notable artists and ensembles. Below are some of the highlights.

OCTOBER 11, 1996
Melos Quartet
Glenn Memorial Auditorium

OCTOBER 27-28, 1996
Voices of Light
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Featuring Anonymous 4
Glenn Memorial Auditorium

NOVEMBER 23, 1996
Keyboard Conversations
Jeffrey Siegel, piano
Performing Arts Studio

DECEMBER 6 AND 7, 1996
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
University Chorus
Alfred Calabrese, conductor
Glenn Memorial Auditorium

JANUARY 18, 1997
Keyboard Conversations
Love in Music: The Passions of Robert Schumann
Jeffrey Siegel, piano
Performing Arts Studio

FEBRUARY 4, 1997
New European Strings Chamber Orchestra
Dmitry Sitkovetsky, music director
Glenn Memorial Auditorium

FEBRUARY 28, 1997
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
Glenn Memorial Auditorium

MARCH 25, 1997
Milton Nascimento, Brazilian vocalist
Glenn Memorial Auditorium

APRIL 5, 1997
Keyboard Conversations
Romantic Fantasies
Jeffrey Siegel, piano
Performing Arts Studio

Call 404-727-5050 to purchase tickets to these and other events or to request a season brochure. To reserve tickets online, visit the Classic Performances World Wide Web site.

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