LONG, WHITE STYROFOAM COOLER took up three
entire Commencement seats. Battered and stained, it was tied
shut with knotted twine. A post-graduation family picnic? Live
lobsters? Celebratory champagne?
cooler turned out to be filled with authentic Hawaiian leis.
Fresh and fragrant, the exquisite, hand-woven floral necklaces
had been packed lovingly in ice and flown across the ocean to
be worn in honor of Jacob Waxman, a senior political science
major who received his Emory degree May 13, along with more
than 3,300 other graduates.
who grew up surfing in Hawaii, will spend this summer in South
Africa, then take a post with the outreach organization Teach
for America. His mom, Madelyn DEnbeau, beamed proudly
as he accepted his diploma. She makes sure the leis are brought
to all important family occasions.
Hawaii, leis are a traditional part of any big event,
said Jacobs sister, Ilana. His aunt, Lisa Waxman, agreed,
When I graduated from Wesleyan, we had the same thing.
leis were just one example of the festive customs that found
their way into this American university rite of passage. Emory
families from the U.S. and around the world gathered on the
Quadrangle in the cool, breezy morning for Emorys one
hundred fifty-seventh Commencement, a hopeful close to an academic
year marked by the international tragedy of September 11. Women
in traditional Indian saris craned their necks to see their
sons, sitting beside nervous dads in bowties awaiting their
daughters shining moment with teddy bears and roses. The
dozens of languages swirling on the Quad brought home the reality
of a rapidly shrinking world.
shadow of the years events could not be ignored, but neither
could it dim the brightness of the day for graduates and their
families. Alfred Uhry, Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright, gave
the keynote speech. A writer who has grappled with themes of
conflict and racial tension in his work, Uhry gave an address
that mixed sobriety with off-the-cuff humor and lightheartedness.
is a very serious time for you people to come of age,
Uhry said. The bedrock under us seems to have a crack
in it, doesnt it? We believe nothing is sure for us, nowhere
is really safe. And I think the only thing we can do about that
is look inside ourselves, all of us, and find a way to have
the courage that were going to need for whatever it is
thats going to happen.
an Atlantan who graduated from Druid Hills High School and wrote
Driving Miss Daisy, the play that became an Academy- Award-winning
film, was one of five honorary degree recipients who addressed
students at the 2002 Commencement ceremony. He imparted simple
advice that he wished he had taken as a young man: Actions
have consequences, he said. Stick with the truth.
That way you wont have to worry about remembering what
you said. . . . Even when its hard to try, youve
got to keep trying. Take risks. And have fun along the way.
It doesnt cost anything and you might as well do it, right?
B. Mandelbrot, a world-renowned mathematician and Yale professor,
received an honorary doctor of science degree. Mandelbrots
work on fractal sets has impacted architecture, ecology, music,
linguistics, neuroscience, cinema techniques and more, earning
him international prizes. Yet he told students that his career
was too long in coming. One tells young people, You
must not hurry to make up your mind about which field you are
in. Take your time, do what you like. But Im almost
seventy-eight, and I still have not decided. Thats too
late. Dont rush, but dont do it as slowly as I did.
Its too risky.
Ramphele, a doctor, anthropologist, and higher education administrator
who is currently managing director of the World Bank, received
an honorary doctor of laws degree. Ramphele, adding to the international
flavor of the day, spoke of the world-wide web that laces humanity
are the days of isolation, she said. Gone are the
days when countries could go it alone pursuing their national
interests. . . . Today, weliving in the United States
and elsewhereare as much affected by what happens in Afghanistan
as what happens to our next door neighbor. . . . For me, universities
today are there to prepare global citizens. And I feel the responsibility
of being a global citizen as being the heaviest of all. It is
the responsibility of making history every day of our lives.
Thompson and Larry Colburn received honorary doctor of humane
letters degrees. As soldiers together, Thompson and Colburn
risked their lives during the My Lai massacre in Vietnam to
save thousands of native civilians from U.S. Army forces. It
was not until thirty years later that they were awarded the
Soldiers Medal for their heroic actions. Both live in
Atlanta and have visited the Emory campus to talk about their
away from negative peer pressure, Thompson warned Emory
graduates. Once you step over that line and start going
along with the flow or the crowd, its very hard to recover.
Prejudice had a big part to play in that day [in 1968]. Stay
away from it. . . . Youre going to have to make many decisions
in your life; think about today. Think about your upbringing.
Please make the right decisions because were depending
on youbecause you are our future leaders.
the all-University Commencement ceremony, graduates and their
families and friends scattered to the various diploma ceremonies
held throughout the Emory campus. Emory College graduates stayed
to receive their diplomas on the Quadrangle, after an address
by class orator Sarah Byrd, an All-American cross-country runner
who majored in creative writing and womens studies.
urged her fellow graduates to have confidence as they embarked
on the next leg of their journeys, buoyed by the education they
have received. We grew up thinking the best answer is
in someone elses brain, Byrd said. What the
world needs now is the ideas and dreams that are in your head.
appearance was coupled with that of another Pulitzer-Prize-winning
playwright, Margaret Edson, at the Oxford College Commencement.
With Emorys new Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts
being constructed even as the ceremony was taking place, the
combination of events served as a reminder that the arts can
serve as an important reflector of lifeeven life at its
Desai, a theater and political science major who won Emorys
Benston Prize for Excellence in Theater Studies and Performance
after directing three plays in the spring semester of his senior
year, said he was thrilled that two renowned playwrights were
chosen to speak the year of his Commencement. In the aftermath
of September 11, Desai wrestled with how to bring out the universal
truths in his own work and make the plays relevant to his audience
today. His honors thesis project, Marisol, was a futuristic
drama about a jaded young woman wandering a New York that is
decaying and under attack. As she encounters a series of characters,
grappling with issues of gender, ethnicity, and millennial malaise,
she winds up finding compassion and humanity she never
knew were there, Desai says.
the World Trade Center attacks, Desai was searching for ways
to help his audience relate; afterward, the plays themes
became automatically relevant.
Uhry and Edsons work accomplishes a similar resonance
with the universal human themes of the time, he says.
believe the arts have a tremendous power to heal, and a cathartic
power, to help us see ourselves and the world with more clarity
and focus, Desai said. What theatre, like [Uhry
and Edsons] plays, does is focus on universal elements.
Art can give faces and names to our struggles.
the ending of his most famous play, in which friendship triumphs
over differences, Uhry wrapped up his speech on a hopeful, homespun
note. It looks like Emory has done its job with you,
he told graduates. It looks like your families have done
their jobs. And now youre gonna come out here and join
the rest of us. And I think youre gonna be all right.P.P.P.