EM Summer 2004



Emory Weekend

Alumni in Africa


Alumni Authors


When James W. Wagner was a professor of engineering at Johns Hopkins University some twenty years ago, he rented a black academic gown for Commencement exercises each year. On the day Wagner was granted tenure, a group of his graduate students and advisees arrived on his front doorstep with a brand-new Johns Hopkins doctoral robe of his own, a gift in honor of his rise to full professorship.

These same former students sat in the front row, near Wagner’s family, on the Emory Quadrangle on April 2, while their teacher and mentor was inaugurated as Emory’s nineteenth president. At the pinnacle of the ceremony, Johns Hopkins President William Brody helped Wagner remove the gown his students had given him, and former Emory presidents James T. Laney and Billy Frye draped him in a new presidential robe of rich gold and blue.

The moment symbolized another transformation for Wagner, and his emotion was evident as he donned the gown and with it the mantle of the Emory University presidency.

With great privilege, Wagner said, comes great obligation. The link between the two, and Emory’s responsibility to use its wealth of resources to serve a troubled world, was a theme stressed repeatedly throughout the ceremony–not least by Wagner himself.

Wagner recounted a story in his inaugural address: He described a young man he encountered at a recent alumni gathering who asked him what Emory can do to heal the divisiveness and conflict of the world. His answer, he said, grew into a vision of Emory as a genuine community of higher education that would meet the world’s most challenging troubles with its commitment to truth, knowledge, service, and ethical discourse in all academic disciplines.

“This was a challenging question, a vexing question, but it turns out it was a good question, deserving of a thoughtful answer,” Wagner said. “. . . As much as we might want to dodge this young man’s question, doing so would not relieve that nagging sense of responsibility that presses on those in positions of high privilege, that sense of responsibility that makes demands both of people and of institutions. The link between privilege and obligation is inescapable and strong.”

After careful consideration, Wagner said, he told the young man: “‘I don’t know, but I do believe that higher education is part of the answer.’

“Mr. Chairman and all members of the University community, I do believe that, when privilege and responsibility are held together, genuine higher education is a compelling answer to the divisiveness and isolation in the world. Allow me . . . to acknowledge the rich privilege you have extended to me to serve as Emory’s nineteenth president. And out of that great privilege, I enthusiastically respond to the attendant obligations and responsibilities.”

The observance of James Warren Wagner’s Inauguration began with a walk through the Oxford campus (left), Emory’s original home, where students served as his guides; it concluded on the University Quadrangle in the presence of more than two hundred leaders from fellow colleges and luminaries such as former President Jimmy Carter, Governor Sonny Perdue, and Mayor Shirley Franklin. Fittingly, the week-long Inauguration Celebration allowed the new president to experience the full reach of the Emory community and clasp hands with dozens–perhaps hundreds–of those Emory has touched.

The centerpiece of the first Inauguration event on March 29 at Oxford College was the lighting of the inaugural torch, which symbolized the passing of the mantle from one president to the next. The torch is an element of Emory’s coat of arms.

“One hundred and sixty-seven years after the founding of Emory College, and eighty-nine years after the founding of Emory University, and on this, the first day of Emory’s future, do you hear the calling of the past and promise to carry this heritage as your guide to the future?” University Secretary Gary Hauk ’91PhD asked Wagner.

“I do,” the president replied.

Oxford Student Government Association President Michael Woodworth handed Wagner the flaming torch, which would be carried the thirty-seven miles from Oxford to the Emory campus by a relay of twenty-seven runners including students, alumni, faculty, and administrators.

Hauk triumphantly brought the flame through Emory Village and up to the Haygood-Hopkins gate on Thursday afternoon, April 1, but found himself without an immediate successor: the immortal spirit of Emory, James W. Dooley, who was scheduled to take the torch from Hauk, was nowhere to be seen. Whether his absence was due to a logistical hitch or an April Fool’s prank was unclear, but Dooley arrived by limousine some ten minutes late. Nonetheless, another forty-three community members carried the torch through the campus before it was passed again–this time by the errant Dooley–to Wagner, who lit a cauldron that would burn throughout Friday’s Inauguration ceremony.

“But the real spirit of Emory has been carried by countless thousands at the University since 1836,” Wagner said as he set the cauldron ablaze.

Themed “Celebrate Emory,” Inauguration week offered an opportunity to pay tribute to many of the University’s strengths, with particular emphasis on the arts. The Inaugural Arts Festival featured poetry readings, dance, and dramatic performances. “Barenaked Voices,” the first annual a capella performance by eight choral groups in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, brought the entire audience to its feet.

“The arts always have been an important part of life at Emory, but never more so than in the last decade, culminating in the dedication of the Schwartz Center,” Hauk said. “What better way to celebrate the spirit of this community than to show off the lively flourishing of the arts here?”

Several works of art also were commissioned especially for Wagner’s Inauguration, including new musical arrangements and compositions by music professors John A. Lennon and Steven Everett, a poem by retired medical professor John Stone, and a silk batik of Lullwater Preserve by artist Mary Edna Frasier.

The celebration also gave a nod to Emory’s commitment to ethics, an aspect of the University’s character that Wagner has said helped draw him here. A forum sponsored by the Center for Ethics was held on Tuesday, March 30, featuring an “inaugural panel” from a cross-section of Emory’s schools and disciplines, including those of public health, English, theology, medicine, law, and business. Each panelist was asked to speak about emerging ethical challenges in the professions.

The festival-like week culminated on a cool, windy afternoon in a formal ceremony on the Quadrangle. Honored guests marched in full academic regalia as the strains of bagpipes lent the procession further solemnity. Poet John Stone read “The Spirits of This Lawn,” an homage to Emory’s scholarly past and future, composed for the occasion.

Wagner’s wife, Debbie, and their two daughters, Kimberly and Christine, sat in the front row along with his parents and his two brothers, as well as former First Lady Rosalynn Carter (left). Wagner thanked his family with profound emotion during the ceremony as Mrs. Wagner dabbed at the tears in her eyes.

Governor Perdue, Mayor Franklin, and President Carter each extended their welcomes to President Wagner, speaking on behalf of the people of Georgia, Atlanta, and a world in need of courageous leadership.

“We celebrate the future legacy of James Warren Wagner, one in which Atlanta’s premiere research university is pushed to even higher levels, a university developing the best and brightest minds of a new generation,” said Franklin.

Gregory Vaughn ’87C, president of the Association of Emory Alumni, spoke for his fellow graduates, saying, “As we welcome you today, President Wagner, let me assure you that Emory’s alumni are forward looking and ready to be full partners in bringing the University to new heights and to achieving our shared vision of Emory as a destination university.”

Representatives from the Emory faculty, staff, students, and the Methodist church also greeted Wagner.

“Throughout my four years here, I have never seen as much excitement and optimism on this campus as I have viewed in the past seven months since Dr. Wagner assumed the presidency,” said Euler Bropleh ’02Ox-’04C, speaking for Emory students. “While students are impressed with his warmth, humor, and affability, his collaborative style and willingness to listen–and take action when necessary–are his most notable traits.”

Ben F. Johnson III ’63C, chair of the University Board of Trustees and of the presidential search committee, described to those assembled how keynote speaker Frank H. T. Rhodes helped guide Emory and President Wagner toward one another. Rhodes, a distinguished expert in higher education and president emeritus of Cornell University, served as a consultant during the search.

“You have found, in Jim and Debbie Wagner, a remarkable couple, individually immensely talented, and as a couple, open, gracious, caring, and totally committed,” Rhodes said. “And with their joint leadership, even greater times lie ahead.

“It seems to me that the great university of the future will be one that is locally rooted but internationally oriented, and how well prepared Emory is for that role. . . . Today’s compact, today’s commitment to support and trust and friendship with Jim and Debbie Wagner, not just in the sunshine of April but in the dark days of November, is part of the celebration of today. That compact, that partnership between men and women who love learning and have defended it well, stretches all the way back to Bologna and Paris and Oxford and links us here today, in Oxford, Georgia and Atlanta, with them, across the oceans, across the continents, across the centuries.”

After Wagner donned his Emory robe, Robert Fannin ’67T-’70T, a Methodist bishop and vice chair of the Board of Trustees, gave him a sprig of the traditional Wesley holly, symbolizing Emory’s ties to the church; Board Secretary Charles Ginden ’55C handed him the original 1836 Emory College charter; and trustee Chilton Varner ’76L presented Wagner with a set of keys denoting his access to the traditions and heritage of Emory.

“The true purpose of higher education,” Wagner said in his address, “is to lead us out of our self-centered universe to a place where we can perceive the world from others’ perspectives and have a positive impact on the community. Higher education, you see, is as much about insight as it is about gaining information; it’s as much about wisdom as it is about seeking knowledge. . . .

“We must trust that personal satisfaction comes as an added blessing when we offer and pursue genuine higher education. At Emory, when our commitment to see the world through others’ eyes is strong, when we hunger and thirst to transcend ourselves and our self-centered worlds, we will be drawn together and the world will be drawn to Emory. Doing so will indeed make Emory a destination university. We will be internationally recognized as a scholarly community. We will be inquiry driven, ethically engaged, and diverse. We will work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care, and social action.”


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