Oxford’s “gala year of the performing arts” ended with a flourish as Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Margaret Edson addressed the College’s Class of 2002. The May 11 ceremony honored 259 graduates.

Edson, an Atlanta kindergarten teacher who wrote the play Wit, told those gathered in the Temple of the Trees for Oxford’s Commencement that teaching and learning are, quite simply, about love.

“And the reason you know that’s true,” she said, “is that no one ever admits it. We make you do things you don’t want to do. You make us do things we don’t want to do. Nothing explains that but love.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Edson graduated from Smith College and has a master’s degree in English from Georgetown University. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 and an Emmy in 2001 for her first play, a stark drama about an academic who confronts a terminal illness.

Edson proves not only “the potency of the spoken word,” said Oxford Dean Dana K. Greene, but also the value of tenacity: she sent her play to sixty theaters, and “it took eight years for one in California to take it on.”

Greene presented Edson with the Dean’s Medal, given annually to a person whose life and work fosters the ideals of Oxford College. To recognize a playwright was particularly appropriate, said Greene, since Oxford has seen its own resurgence in the performing arts this year, from the new Hugh and Gena Tarbutton Performing Arts Center to expanded cultural programs in music, dance, drama, and poetry.

Jessica Leigh Poole was honored with the Eady Sophomore Service Award. Associate Dean of Campus Life Joseph C. Moon Jr. said Poole, a “gifted vocalist and dedicated tutor” shared her talents as an officer, choir member, and soloist in the Oxford Chorale; a member of the Guitar and Mandolin Society who played at local nursing homes; a tutor for immigrant students in area technical schools; and as vice president of the Student Government Association, helping to raise funds to buy a piano–the 2002 Student Class Gift–for the second floor of the newly renovated Few Hall.

“Jessica, you have quietly but effectively made Oxford a better place since you stepped onto the campus,” Moon said.

The Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching was presented by Dean for Academic Affairs Kent B. Linville to Susan B. Riner, senior lecturer in mathematics, for “her willingness to serve as a friend and counselor to her students, to encourage student participation, and her dedication to student learning.”–M.J.L.