Emory Report

June 26, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 36

First Person

Emory's magic endures far beyond Commencement

Danielle Sered '00C is preparing for her first year as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where she will pursue a master's degree in English.

When asked a month ago to offer a graduating senior's sentiments regarding Emory, I responded by saying that while all of us have had our frustrations with this University, some of us have found amidst those frustrations a certain magic here­­doors that open for us without our pushing, professors who inspire us without our knowing, peers who teach us without our asking, and a few friends who remind us of what is good and beautiful and worth laughing about every day of our lives.

Now, having spent a month with the Quad nowhere in sight and the voices I have become accustomed to hearing every day reaching me only through

e-mail, I am thrilled to report that you can take it with you. One of the most striking qualities of Emory's peculiar magic is, for me, the grace with which it slips into the next phase of a life. If I have learned anything at Emory, I hope it is how to trust such magic and such grace and how best to welcome them into my life.

Such faith and invitation were not, for me, easy to come by. The week after I was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, I was approached like a star quarterback after the Super Bowl by countless reporters from newspapers on-campus and off, radio and TV, all of them asking, "How does it feel?" I answered them honestly: I told them it was a surprise­­especially after meeting the other candidates, that it was a truly humbling experience and that I was deeply thankful for the support and encouragement I had received here at Emory. At the end of the week, a very close friend also asked me, "How does it feel?" She was looking for a different answer.

The answer I gave her has been a long time coming, but it began some time last year when I received a travel grant that allowed me to go to Ireland and complete my dream project (a collection of interviews with contemporary Irish women poets), and then a few months later received the Beinecke Scholarship, which will fund the bulk of my graduate education.

Until then, and even until now, I understood personal growth in one way: as overcoming hardship intelligently. A person grew, I thought, by managing adversity, by surviving sorrow, by making it through a hard place or time. When first the travel grant and then the Beinecke came through, I had to ask myself: How can one grow out of a good thing? What does it mean to be deeply affected by positive change? When does good fortune become substantial enough to shape a life?

Yesterday, I paid off all of my unsubsidized student loans. At Commencement last month, I had the great honor of being named the Class of 2000's recipient of the McMullan Award, which includes a cash prize large enough to relieve me of all of my debt and still have a dollar or two left over for chocolate. I am not yet able to put into words how liberating the financial component of this award is, but I do know it is the kindest challenge I've ever received. It says: now that you are untethered, how far will you dare to go?

Accepting the McMullan has been strange, however, not only because it resides firmly in the category of things too good to be true, but also because I feel like it belongs to so many people- not only all of the other worthy candidates in my class (and there are many), but also the people who have been central to every project I have taken on here. ArtsReach is not my initiative, but the initiative of a dozen exceptionally committed and talented people whose company I have been lucky enough to share; the Emory Women's Alliance is not my doing, but the doing of the 100-plus women who have joined the project and been guiding lights to so many students, myself included; my academic work is not solely my vision, but my vision as it has been inspired and nurtured by members of the Emory faculty, whose energy has been absolutely contagious. I have not once experienced this University alone, so it is strange to be singled out in the end as the one deserving of praise.

What I know is that of all the luck that has come my way, I am luckiest to have kept such good company. I have been blessed by the most supportive administrators, the most generous professors and the most astonishing friends I could ever imagine. They have offered me inspiration, courage, guidance, hope, and joy, and I have learned the world from them. They have made me a better person, and I am deeply grateful for that. I will carry their magic with me always.

I am in a place now where the strongest forces in my life are simply dazzling to me.

And I am just beginning to learn how to grow from them. My hope is that by the time my plane lands in England in September, I might know how to embrace joy without guilt, to welcome luck without doubt, and perhaps even to walk through the wide open door of these next two years without the slightest hesitation.

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