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September 3, 2002

New format makes for jazzy Convocation

By Eric Rangus

Emory’s Freshman Convocation to herald the coming of the Class of 2006 began—as its predecessors have—with University faculty entering Glenn Auditorium on Aug. 27 backed by the sound of bagpipes.

Interim Provost Woody Hunter gave the introduction; Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of
the chapel and religious life, delivered the invocation; and President Bill Chace addressed Emory’s newest class of freshman.

As far as convention goes, that was about it.

During his Convocation address, English Professor Ron Schuchard waved a dead fish like a light saber and spoke of finding one’s passion. Keeping with a theme of “gross things plucked out of the sea,” psychology Professor Darryl Neill held aloft a dolphin’s brain sealed in large freezer bag.

Music Associate Professor Dwight Andrews turned the more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff assembled into one, giant jazz vocal group. Peter Bing, associate professor of classics, read in Greek the “Siren’s Song” from The Odyssey, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and an interpretive dance by lecturer George Staib of the health, physical education and dance department.

And, to culminate the singing of Emory’s alma mater by a cappella group No Strings Attached, chemistry Professor Emeritus Ronald Johnson mixed together a couple solutions that turned gold then blue on command.

This was not your father’s convocation. Or even your sophomore’s.

“This year, we worked to provide a lively and stimulating opening to the academic year and to show the new class the panoply of riches they are about to encounter,” said Sally Wolff King, associate dean of Emory College. “They sought to inspire in the entering class, now standing at the threshold of academe, a degree of awe, challenge and revelation.” Mission accomplished.

Schuchard, the main speaker, was sincere yet often lighthearted. Of course, it’s tough
to brood while clutching the 2-foot-long body of a dead dogfish shark, which he used as a visual aid. (“I still reek of the formaldehyde,” he said later.)

Calling his speech, “The Shark’s Ear,” Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English, told of his quest to remove the practically invisible—and unobtainable—ear of a shark while an undergraduate at the University of Texas.

He was successful, but was unable to find anyone to share his reverie. With that experience, Schuchard said, he learned a lesson.

“The shark’s ear had lifted me for the first time off my lab stool and put me in my rapture seat,” he said. “Oh, Class of 2006, you don’t want to miss your rapture seat—your first experience of self-transport and intellectual joy. But I regret to tell you that there was a steep downside: No one cared. And no one will care when you get yours. The shark’s ear is something you must celebrate alone, even if you are loud and passionate about it.”

Passion was something that Bing, the first speaker, brought to his lyrical reading of The Odyssey, an epic poem referenced by several speakers because of its theme of a journey come full circle.

After Bing and Schuchard, the surprises weren’t over. To illustrate what had been a pretty conventional talk about the connection between brains and wisdom, Neill unveiled a dolphin’s brain—inspiring several cringes—he had borrowed from psychology colleague Lori Marino.

Andrews, who teaches a popular jazz history class, then turned Convocation into a participatory activity. In a rather remarkable stroke, he was able to encourage the faculty members seated on the stage (including President Chace, Provost Hunter and the deans of most of Emory’s schools) to snap their fingers in rhythmic unison. Andrews then assigned each section of Glenn to mimic a different voice or instrument. The many heads bobbing told Andrews that his experiment was a success.

Not only was the 2002 Convocation unique in its academic and artistic focus, but its religious aspect was transformed as well. Henry-Crowe, for instance, was not alone when she gave the invocation. Muslim and Baha’i prayers, delivered in two languages by students of each faith, followed her. The benediction consisted of prayers given by a Jewish student, a Hindu student and a quartet of Tibetan monks, whose melodic chant was a uniquely ecumenical way to start the Class of 2006 on its way.

One of the few portions of Convocation that resembled previous years was President Chace’s address, which was part welcome and part challenge.

“You, like [Odysseus], have been strong in the past, and you have been honored in your own land,” Chace said. “Some months or years ago, you knew that you had to leave the confines of your past and that you owed yourself a long, deep thrust into something new. Well, you have found it.”

“You will have your character as your guide,” Chace continued. “You will experience much, and you will journey upon a great circle. And you will come back to yourself—a better self. That, Class of 2006, is really what college is all about.”

New ceremony welcomes class on McDonough Field
The Class of 2006’s Emory experience actually began Saturday, Aug. 24, with freshman move-in. Parents and new students of all sorts lugged boxes of clothes, electronic equipment and other comforts and necessities out of seemingly every parking lot on campus into dorms spruced up for their new residents.

At 4 p.m. that afternoon, all freshmen gathered on the newly resodded McDonough Field for a 15-minute welcoming ceremony, a new feature of orientation. Backed by his army of red-shirted, khaki-shorted orientation leaders, coordinator of new student orientation Paul
Towne welcomed the new class and introduced them to Student Government Association President Christopher Richardson, who encouraged the students to become involved on campus.

“This place costs $37,000 a year to attend. Don’t let that go to waste,” Richardson said.
Vice President of Alumni Affairs and Special Programs Bob Pennington then led the gathering in a Dasani bottled-water toast—a pleasant refresher on what was a very muggy afternoon.

After that, the freshmen broke up into their orientation groups and met their student leaders for the first time. That was the first step in orientation process that dominated the weekend and much of last week, culminating in the receipt of their schedules Tuesday night, Aug. 27.