May 27, 2003

Emory sends off 158th graduating class

By Eric Rangus

On a brand-new stage, under a new parachute-shaped canopy, on a breezy but comfortable spring day, Emory’s Class of 2003 took its first collective step into the world as the University celebrated its 158th Commencement, Monday, May 12.

Presiding over what likely will be his last Commencement as Emory president, the retiring Bill Chace made no grand pronouncements, and stuck to the reverent yet lightly humorous tone that is his trademark. Needling honorary degree recipient Anthony Fauci for being a New York Yankees fan and reciting a sonnet to honor Scholar/Teacher Award winner Lucas Carpenter were among the highlights.

The Class of 2003 consisted of more than 3,300 students, 36 of whom received double degrees. Emory handed out 1,780 undergraduate degrees, 1,096 graduate degrees and 462 professional degrees.

The class was 55 percent female; 66 percent of the graduates were white, 11.4 percent were black, and 18.5 percent represented other minorities. A total of 355 international students graduated representing 77 countries.

The youngest graduate was 20 years old, and the oldest graduate, 68, earned a master’s in theological studies. The average GPA of Emory College graduates was 3.3, and 40 percent earned a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.

In his keynote address, Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, touched on a variety of subjects (see First Person). He lauded Emory for the strength of its English department and its literary collections—particularly in Irish literature—and spoke of the difficulties of living through a time of war; and the power of the written word to help make sense of everything that is unknown in the world.

“If those works of the human imagination that have been preserved by teachers and librarians for millennia have a virtue, it is surely their ability to make us realize fully and feelingly what is happening to us as individuals and as nations,” Heaney said.

In his closing remarks, Heaney once again referenced the importance of writers in not only helping the world overcome difficult situations, but individual ones as well.

“You will be challenged to be wise and to be good, or to use the more commanding words of W.B. Yeats that I always like to quote, you will be challenged to hold in a single thought reality and justice,” said Heaney, who also quoted poets Ted Hughes and Wilfred Owen during his address.

Since 2001, each of Emory’s honorary degree recipients has addressed the graduates, and continued that tradition this year, as the graduates, their families and friends listened to advice from three more esteemed speakers.

David Levering Lewis, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his two-volume biography of W.E.B. DeBois, said that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court case that declared segregation unconstitutional, but the struggle to overcome cultural challenges continues.

“It seems that the government and a significant portion of the public see themselves as living in a black-and-white world of clashing civilizations,” said Lewis, an Atlanta native who delivered the keynote address at Emory’s “Lynching and Racial Violence in America” conference last September. “But on the other hand, such fears notwithstanding, the future of this country and of the global century remains to be written—written by this graduating class.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said that while school days may be over, for the great majority of the graduates, their learning will never stop.

“In my own case, almost immediately upon my graduation from medical school, I learned to my surprise that my student days had just begun,” he said. “Indeed, we are all perpetual students, and the mosaic of our knowledge and experiences is eternally unfinished.”

Carlton “Sam” Young, professor of music emeritus, spoke about how a growing interest in international music affected his career and how that global knowledge makes for a better world no matter what your interest.

“Global consciousness expressed on this campus and elsewhere provides hope to those committed to preserving and honoring global music traditions as one of God’s most precious gifts—sometimes seemingly overcome by the world of commercial music with its flattening of taste,” he said.

Special guests, of course, were not the only people to be honored during the ceremony. Graduating senior Melissa Roberts was presented with the Marion Luther Brittain Award for service; and Carpenter, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English at Oxford, and Eleanor Main, professor of political science and director of educational studies, were honored with the University Scholar/Teacher and the Thomas Jefferson awards, respectively.

At the ceremony’s conclusion, Renalda Mack (’83C), president of the Association of Emory Alumni, encouraged her more than 3,300 newest colleagues to continue their relationship with their alma mater though their professional lives.

With that, Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the chapel and religious life, delivered the benediction and Chace stepped to the podium one last time.

His message was short and to the point: He told the graduates and their families that individual diploma ceremonies would begin shortly. “Clear the way,” he said with a wave of his hand, “and let the recessional begin.”

To view the webcast of the main Commencement and Emory College diploma ceremonies, visit