The day’s sense of poignancy was heightened by the presence of Nobel-Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney, Emory’s Commencement speaker, who offered his own memories of time spent at the University: seeing the Hale-Bop comet with President William M. Chace and wife JoAn, hearing Yeats’ poetry chanted by a literature student who was blind. Heaney urged graduates to turn to words and literature to make sense of the world around them–particularly in dark days, like those following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“If literature has a virtue, if those works of the human imagination that have been preserved by teachers and librarians for millennia have a virtue, it is surely their ability to make us realize fully and feelingly what is happening to us as individuals and as nations,” Heaney said. “As human beings, we need this realization, and one of the most observable proofs that we do need it was the quest, in the wake of September 11, the general and urgent quest for poems that would be equal to that bewildering occasion.”

To be human, said Heaney, is to forever seek the right balance between the self as individual and as part of a community, and he challenged graduates to give each appropriate weight. “The human condition can be understood as a series of immense climaxes and cataclysms in the historical record, but equally and intimately, the human condition is experienced in the privacy and bewilderment of individual consciousness,” Heaney said. “Which, for example, is the more important element in this morning’s Commencement? Is it the inner newness and strangeness of change that each graduate is experiencing, the sense of standing in a new solitude at the threshold of a new life? Or is it the huge, consoling familiarity of being together at Emory, of being carried along by a shared companionship, by the pageantry and community and solidarity we all belong to and enjoy?

“Both things are important to a fully-lived life and always will be, and the challenge you face in the years ahead is to maintain a balance between the call to be true to your mysteriously essential inner selves and the need to operate capably and self-respectingly in the outer world of affairs.”

Heaney, who sat next to Chace on the stage throughout the departing president’s final Commencement, was the first of four honorary degree recipients to address the 2003 graduates. Anthony S. Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health since 1984 and as chief of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation since 1980, received a doctor of science degree. A pioneer in the field of immunoregulation and the fight against AIDS, Fauci now plays an essential role in creating government policy to combat bioterrorism.

Fauci shared two lessons with graduates. “While many of you are completing graduate studies, you may feel that on this day you are no longer really a student,” Fauci said. “Let me tell you that this is just an illusion. In fact, we are all perpetual students and the mosaic of our knowledge and experiences is eternally unfinished. . . . The next lesson is that you must be prepared for virgin territory, the unexpected, and great changes, even in fields that may now seem very well established.”

David Levering Lewis, currently the Martin Luther King Jr. University Professor in the Department of History at Rutgers University, also accepted an honorary doctor of letters degree. Lewis is the author of a two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, each of which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. At age twelve, Lewis met the eighty-year-old Du Bois, who asked him, “What are you going to do with your life?”

“You,” Lewis told graduates, “are going to work, play, bond, vote, and parent in a multi-cultural nation of accelerating ethnic, demographic, gendered, technological, and scientific complexity. [This] is a nation that has come about in major measure because of the contagious civil rights revolution of the 1960s and ’70s whose momentum has empowered women, ethnics, gay, and other challenged categories that continue to emerge and lay claim to a fair share of the American dream.”

Lewis also reminded graduates that Emory admitted its first students of color only forty years ago. “That southern men and women of my generation and abilities were proscribed from competing for a place in a great national university of the South simply on the basis of skin color ought never be forgotten by you smart, enlightened, and advantaged mistresses and masters of tomorrow’s universe,” Lewis said. “While it is true that Confederate flags, like raw racism and Senate majority leaders, belong in the graveyard of lost causes, nevertheless, the great social gains of the last fifty years are only as authentic as your vigilant guardianship makes them.”

Carlton R. Young, an internationally known music composer for the United Methodist Church and the only person to have edited two major hymnals for the same denomination in the twentieth century, received an honorary doctor of music degree. In addition to traveling the world, conducting clinics and directing choir and hymn festivals, Young once directed the music program at Emory’s Candler School of Theology.

“In honoring me,” Carlton said, “you also honor the art and science of hymns and hymnology. . . . With regard to the latter, you should take pride that the Pitts Theology Library houses the foremost collection of Christian hymns with a special emphasis on Reformation and American hymnody.

“In two decades of editing, compiling, and teaching [international] song I have been privileged to listen and to know firsthand some of the profound human significance of these singing traditions, in particular how, perhaps uniquely, they are a true sharing of culture, and at the same time provide ways of crossing over into another’s lives.”

After President Chace introduced each speaker and presented the major faculty and student awards (see p.), he was authorized by Ben F. Johnson III, chair of the University Board of Trustees, to confer degrees upon the 2003 graduates. For the last time, Chace asked each group of degree recipients to be seated in his habitual humorous way: “Please pick up an old copy of National Geographic and sit down,” he told M.D. recipients; “I enjoin you to have a seat,” to the newly minted lawyers; “My special offer, available only today, you are free to have a seat,” to graduates of the business school; and to theology scholars, “I pray you, take a seat.”

Renelda E. Mack ’83C, president of the Association of Emory Alumni, welcomed graduates into the community of Emory alumni. “Yesterday, you were students,” she told them. “Today, you join the host of illustrious alumni. . . . We want you to be a part of Emory’s future. You are always welcome and you are always at home here.”

Following the University Commencement ceremony, graduates of Emory’s individual schools scattered across campus for their own diploma ceremonies. College graduates receiving their bachelor’s degrees remained on the Quad to hear their class orator, Anton DiSclafani, a creative writing major who wrote an independent paper on “The Ethics of Native American Literature.”

DiSclafani, echoing Heaney’s theme, talked from a highly personal vantage point about the impact of words and language and their ability to evoke the human experience. She spoke of how stories are shaped, and how they shape those who hear them.

“I have accumulated my own story of Emory, as we all have,” DiSclafani said. “We are bound to the people who have gone to Emory in ways we cannot articulate. Emory became my home, and how can we ever describe our home? I could talk for hours and still not list everything I will miss. What story will we live when we leave this place?”

Regardless what stories graduates find themselves living, Heaney said, they will be challenged to be wise and to be good, “to hold in a single thought reality and justice”–and the stories of those who have gone before may help them do so.

“When you are so challenged,” Heaney said, “remember that others have been in the same predicament for millennia, so turn to them and in particular to those among them who offered their answers to the challenge. Turn, in other words, to the poets and writers who took the strain and held the line and stood their ground in the hard-won, decisive place. And then, class of 2003, go you in your turn and do likewise.”

The mood was jubilant in Glenn Memorial Auditorium, where graduates of Emory School of Medicine awaited their diplomas. The valedictory address was given by Haile T. Debas, dean of the School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs at the University of California, San Francisco. “Always remember,” he told the group of doctors, “that the center of your universe is your patient, whom you will teach and from whom you will learn.”

Outside the auditorium, Carla Glanville waited excitedly to see her sister, Denise Glanville, receive her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the graduate school ceremony. Some twenty members of the Glanville clan had come for the occasion, from as far away as Jamaica. “Our whole family is very proud,” Carla said.

Sidney Shoop, three, slept through the ceremony in which his mom, Marcia W. Mount Shoop, received her doctor of philosophy degree in religious studies.

“He went to bed super-late and got up super-early,” said dad John Shoop.

Mount Shoop is associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, Illinois, and finished her dissertation (“Let the Bones Live: A Theology of Embodiment”) while living in Chicago, flying back in for commencement. Her father, mother, and three sisters were also on hand to share in the celebration. “We’re sure excited she’s gotten it,” said Shoop, of his wife’s PhD.

The student speaker at the Rollins School of Public Health ceremony was Rebecca J. Vander Meulen, who received a master’s in public health with a specialty in international health. The Woodruff scholar did her thesis in Mozambique, on the subject of ecological sanitation–in other words, latrines.

“We are practicing health care in a broken world, where problems are complicated and often paradoxical,” Vander Meulen said. “In the midst of this mess, we somehow say we want to practice public health, to believe that our efforts make a difference.” Every ten seconds, Vander Meulen said, someone in the world dies from inadequate water or sanitation. Yet, with the right expertise and with the help of health-care experts, many in dire situations can turn their lives around. For instance, instead of creating a health hazard, properly treated human wastes can be used as fertilizer, resulting in thriving crops.

“We must bear witness to people’s hopes and despair,” she said. “Sometimes soaring, often trudging, we must continue forward . . . toward this vision of abundant life.”

The Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing graduated its first doctoral student: Carolyn Constantin, who wrote her dissertation on immune responses during pregnancy, using mice as a model. A women’s health nurse practitioner, Constantin has been a labor and delivery nurse and an instructor for a course on maternal and child health at Boston College before entering Emory’s Ph.D. program. “Many people supported me in this venture,” Constantin said.

A false fire alarm in the Woodruff P.E. Center may have temporarily shattered the eardrums, but not the happiness, of the 605 Goizueta Business School graduates, including 222 MBA recipients who gave the largest class gift in the University’s history. Similarly, despite a minor car accident that took place squarely in front of the School of Law during the diploma ceremony, spirits were high among the J.D. recipients. The student speaker reminded graduates that while law is a serious business, laughter is important as well. “With what’s going on in the world today,” he said, “practicing law will take a lot out of us. Remember, be generous to yourself as well.”

To read about Oxford’s Commencement click here.

2003 Brittain Award winner.

2003 McMullan Award winner.

A new Commencement tradition: candlelight cross over.



© 2003 Emory University