Pulitzer and Academy Award-winning writer Alfred Uhry led a dynamic
and varied quintet of speakers at Emory 157th Commencement, on the
Quadrangle, May 13.
Uhry was nothing if not down to earth. What could I say thats
real to me and not sound pompous? said Uhry, an Atlanta native
who wrote Driving Miss Daisy and graduated from Druid Hills
High School. What would the me now tell the me back then?
Uhrys advice was easy to digest: trust your instincts, remember
that actions have consequences, and stick with the truthto
I dont think you can tell the truth all of the time,
he said. I mean, if a woman asks you how she looks, you always
say great, right? All actions have consequences, remember?
But these are white lies. Im talking about big honesty.
His point to the graduates was to be honest with themselves; about
their careers, relationships and every other aspect of their lives.
You have come to maturity at a trying time, Uhry said
in conclusion. Americans are being tested as we have never
been tested before. I cant even imagine what you will have
faced when you are my age. Courage is more important now than it
ever was. Make yourself have itboth the courage of your convictions
and the courage to face whatever they throw at you.
Even when serious, though, Uhry kept a lighthearted edge. And
have fun along the way. You might as well. It doesnt cost
That breezy sentiment nicely wrapped up Uhrys nine-minute
speech, which made references ranging from basketballs to prostitutes
to James Taylor.
The ceremonys other speakers may not have shared Uhrys
irreverence in their remarks, but their words were no less memorable.
Continuing a tradition begun last year, each honorary degree recipient
briefly addressed the graduates.
Benoit Mandelbrot, a groundbreaking French mathematician whose
work has influenced disciplines as varied as architecture, music
and linguistics, told the graduates to be flexible.
Im almost 78, and I still havent decided [what
I want to be], said Mandelbrot, who is a professor of mathematical
sciences at Yale. Dont rush, but dont go too slowly
Mamphela Ramphele is the managing director of the World Bank. A
South African, she was the first black woman to hold the presidency
of a major universitythe University of Cape Town. She talked
of the graduates responsibilities as citizens, once they left
Universities today are [here] to prepare global citizens,
Ramphele said. I feel the responsibility of being a global
citizen as the heaviest of all. It is the responsibility of making
history every day of our lives.
Lawrence Colburn and Hugh Thompson received a standing ovation
when they received their honorary degreesthe only people on
stage so honored. Colburn, Thompson and the late Glenn Andreotta
risked their lives during the My Lai massacre in 1968 to save Vietnamese
civilians from U.S. troops who had already killed more that 500
villagers. Three decades after My Lai, they were awarded the Soldiers
Their comments were the most sober of the ceremony. Ordinary
people are capable of unspeakable evil, Colburn cautioned.
In placing his actions during the in perspective, Colburn was succinct.
Some things are worth risking death for, he said. Many
fewer are worth killing for.
Thompson, who grew up in Stone Mountain, was straightforward as
well. He told the graduates to stay away from negative peer pressure
and revenge; and, like Colburn, he placed the actions of his youth
For 30 years I was very confused, he said. Because
what we did that day was, we thought, was the right thing to do.
But its taken 30 years to get out.
If our future is based on our history, our past should be
accurate and truthful, or our future is not very bright.