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
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
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
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
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 www.emory.edu/COMMENCEMENT/video.html.