August 31, 1998
Volume 51, No. 2
It will be hard for so many freshmen to build community, but it's important, Chace says
The sheer bulk of them was most noticeable as they entered and exited Glenn Auditorium, spilling onto the streets in large, ungainly groups. Emory's largest freshman class already is making its presence known, but all 1,347 of them made nary a sound as they waited after the faculty procession for President Bill Chace to officially call the 1998 Opening Convocation to order and welcome them to Emory.
The many welcomes bestowed upon them by faculty, staff and student leaders at the hour and fifteen-minute ceremony were tinged with understanding and wisdom. "Welcome to your new life divested of your friends and family, tucked into your residence halls," Emory College Dean Steven Sanderson said.
It's a journey that many more young adults are taking, he added. For example, three times the number of students-15 million-are matriculating in colleges and universities than when he was a student. Sanderson noted that fully 63 percent of college-age people go on to higher education in the United States, compared to 10 percent in France and Japan and 18 percent in Great Britain.
"No one made it here without the talent to do well," he said, reminding them also of how privileged they are in other ways. Graveyards hold hundreds of young people devastated by flu, pneumonia, typhoid and battle, Sanderson said. Even at their young age, Emory's class of 2002 has the freedom from "arbitrary death," as he termed it. "How many young people on the Earth can say that? . . .
"Recognize others and respect them-not only recognize, but embrace them," Sanderson continued. "Open universities can tolerate anything but the closed mind and heart." He reminded the students to look backwards at "people like you" who came to Emory in their quest to fulfill future destinies. "Step hard so you'll leave a footprint, but leave room for others while you're doing it. . . . Make Emory great by doing well and doing good," he added.
SGA president Chuck Divine likened Emory to a young adult, much like the people assembled before him-excited, vibrant and beginning life. "Emory's greatest endowment is not in stock, does not build buildings or biomedical research centers, but is its students," he said.
Dean of Campus Life Frances Lucas-Tauchar, whose own son entered first grade the day before, said of her experience with the extremely reluctant grade-schooler: "All of a sudden, orienting 1,347 students seemed easy." Amid much laughter, she told of her oldest son's trepidation and, indeed, downright refusal to "go with the program" on his first day of school. "New beginnings can often not turn out like you first thought they should be," she said, relating her son's experience to her other crop of newcomers. Just like her son benefited from Mrs. Schwartz, the patient and soothing school counselor who helped ease the transition for him and his bewildered parents, so too can Emory students get help from "lots of 'Mrs. Schwartzes' to help you out whenever you need a helping hand," Lucas-Tauchar said.
"Get ready to be unready," Chace said in a speech that may have left those already fearing their own first days of "school" more than a little uneasy. "You are ready, but your not really sure what you're ready for. You're not ready for a first-rate research university," he told them. "But it's too late-the doors are closing behind you," he joked. More seriously, Chace noted, "Confusion and uncertainty surround the place where education begins."
Emory is committed to the order of meritocracy-expecting and acknowledging outstanding personal achievement-and the order of an egalitarian society, Chace said. "They make up much of the life of this university. In turn, they will define much of what you will do and experience here." The two concepts are not as contradictory as they might first appear, he said. "We need to act, in effect, by the principle that we are in this place together, not just a loose assembly of competing individuals.
"Americans have a lot to learn about community, the establishment of a sense of commonwealth . . . [and] what we owe to the selves surrounding us," Chace added, calling functioning communities the "most fragile social asset in the United States.
Chace warned the entering class that they'll be drawn to the "temptations of conformity." "You can seek out the most apparently secure group you can find-secure because folks look like you" or share your wealth, he said. "These are the politics of identity," Chace said, "tempting politics, but they are bad." Learning to think for yourself, and being strong enough to "be alone with yourself," he said, will help create that egalitarian community Emory strives to be.
"You are here to build a self. Your teachers will help you, your friends will help you and my colleagues up here will help you if you call on us. But it's your project," Chace told the freshman class. "While it will last as long as you live, Emory . . . will be one of the most intense and most dramatic parts of that building."