From the President

Treasure and Heart

By James Wagner, President, Emory University

Portrait of President James W. Wagner on the campus of Emory University

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

So we are told in the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve always been struck by the psychology of this shrewd observation of human nature. It does not say, as we might suppose, that we support, or give treasure to, only those things we love. That would seem almost self-evidently sensible—first we love something, then we pour our resources into it.

No, this saying notes that we come to love those things to which we already have freely committed our wherewithal, whether it’s a “starter home” or a first car or a deposit on college enrollment. We invest in something, and then we cherish it. Most of us have felt what would be called in the Buddhist tradition “attachment.” Often we feel this for things that we have paid hard-earned treasure to acquire.

This effect may be all the more profound when investing our time or money in a worthy cause motivates us to care still more, believe in it still more, and then give even more of ourselves as well as our resources. Our hearts follow our treasure.

The completion of Campaign Emory is noteworthy from this perspective. We announced a challenging $1.6 billion goal in September 2008, at the beginning of the precipitous slide in the economy. Most of the campaign took place during stressful economic times. From the beginning, we thought about hedging our bets and contemplating how to celebrate a result that might fall somewhat short of our goal. Surely people would understand, under the circumstances.

But many had already invested treasure—often very dear treasure—in the good work of Emory, sometimes for many years. Emory’s work on behalf of positive transformation, and the university’s potential to do more of it, had captured the hearts and hopes of remarkably many. Ultimately about 149,000 donors contributed nearly $1.7 billion. This is an astounding vote of confidence, all the more so because even if every living alumnus and alumna were able to give, that would account for only 118,000 donors. Treasures already invested and at work at Emory had drawn the hearts of many into a deeper and richer relationship with this place.

This brings me to the second point implied by that phrase in Matthew, at least as I read it—the responsibility of those who hold the invested treasures of others. This is Emory’s responsibility. It is not just “disposable assets” that have come to Emory during our campaign. In a very real way, we have received the hearts of those who donated to student programs and scholarships, to faculty endowments and research, to facilities and our future. We have accepted the responsibility to help realize the hopes and passions of our donors.

My favorite definition of the word stewardship is the one that reminds us of our responsibility to manage what we have for the benefit of those whose voices are not immediately at the table: generations past, present, and yet to come. This understanding of stewardship is a call to pay attention to the powerless, to carry out the charge of those who preceded us, and to bear a responsibility to the future, to unborn generations. But it also is a reminder of the covenant we have with those who entrust their treasures to us. They transfer to us the authority to use those treasures, trusting that we will do so in good faith.

My colleagues at Emory—faculty, staff, and administrators—do intend to be the very best stewards that we can of your treasures. And your hearts.

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