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May 28, 2002

Edson adds 'wit' to ceremony

By Michael Terrazas


On the Oxford Quad the morning of May 11, Margaret Edson spent most of her Commencement address searching for a title—and that was just fine with the 259 students finishing the first phase of their collegiate careers.

“What you call something is your idea of what it is,” Edson said both of her address and of the education the students had received at Oxford over the preceding two years. “What is the substance we’re left with at the end of our education? Nothing. That’s what makes it so beautiful—there’s no good title for what is happening to you.”

To be sure, Edson, author of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit and a kindergarten teacher at Atlanta’s John Hope Elementary School, did have a title for her remarks: “Teaching and Learning.”

“A better title for some of you would have been ‘Taught and Learned,’” said Edson, who reminded the students that “your ignorance is your gift to us—it keeps us employed.”

“Can I get away with a different title?” Edson asked in her conclusion. “What would that title be? Can I call it love? That’s our secret; don’t let it leave this area. Teaching and learning is love. There’s no good word for it; it’s not an exchange of services. If my title were ‘Love,’ no one would come to hear me.”

But come to hear her, they did—to hear the woman who sent a play worthy of a Pulitzer to 60 different theaters over eight years before she found one willing to stage it, as Oxford Dean Dana Greene explained in her introduction of Edson. “To learn and to teach,” Greene said, referring to the title of Edson’s address, “are the most primal human vocations. From birth to death, we do both, and to the degree we do both well, we become more human.”

Following the playwright’s remarks, Greene presented Edson with the Dean’s Medal, awarded each year at Commencement “to honor extraordinary persons who through their life and work foster the ideals of Oxford College.”

Oxford’s Commencement speaker was not the only one to leave campus with some hardware on that hazy, rain-threatened morning; in addition to the 259 students who received their associate’s degrees, Jessica Poole received the Eady Sophomore Service Award for her performances at local nursing homes through the Oxford Chorale and the Guitar and Mandolin Society, as well as her English tutoring at a local technical college and her service as vice president of the Oxford Student Government Association. Poole received the award from Joe Moon, Oxford associate dean for Campus Life.

Susan Riner, senior lecturer in mathematics, received an Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching. In presenting the honor, Dean of Academic Affairs Kent Linville said Riner’s contributions to academic life at Oxford have been “sustained, valuable and largely unsung.”

“[Riner] is a truly exceptional talent,” Linville said. “She has made a big difference, known and unknown, in the lives of students.”

Many of those students then filed onstage and received their degrees from Greene and President Bill Chace. But before the ceremony even began, the Oxford Class of 2002 gave something back to their two-year alma mater in the form of a class gift that totaled $4,593 in gifts and pledges. The gift will support a scholarship fund, as well as the purchase of a practice piano for the second floor of newly renovated Few Hall.

“Oxford has special meaning for the entire Class of 2002,” said sophomore and class gift committee chair Lauren Mock. “And we want to give this special gift to commemorate those feelings.”