Emory Report
August 30, 2004
Volume 57, Number 02


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August 30, 2004
Convocation kicks off 2004-05 year

By Eric Rangus

In Glenn Auditorium, Tuesday, Aug. 24, the Class of 2008 began its voyage through higher education at Emory’s annual Opening Convocation. And voyage was more than a simple metaphor during the hour-long ceremony; the theme of journeying, both the physical and philosophical, wound its way through the words of each speaker.

“You are taking a huge step today,” said Sanjay Gupta, perhaps best known as CNN’s senior medical correspondent but also an assistant professor of neurology at Emory. “All of you are beginning an exciting new voyage. That feeling of fear you might have now will go away eventually.”

Gupta spoke of his own voyage through school and beyond, and how he didn’t exactly end up where he thought he would. “I wanted to be a writer,” Gupta said. “But everything I wanted to do was shot down by an editor. I didn’t feel very scholarly, so I went to medical school and became a neurosurgeon.”

Leslie Harris, associate professor of history and chair of African American studies, said that a voyage in the literal sense—research trips to New York to work on a book she was writing about slavery in that city—was crucial to her understanding of not only herself but her subject matter.

“Travel becomes a prism separating the various layers of experiences,” she said. “You should use the classes you take as only one way to learn about the world.”

“A voyage is just a poetic way of saying a journey or a trip,” said Sid Perkowitz, Charles Candler Professor of Physics, who delivered the main address. “The important thing is that, in the very best journeys, there is more going on than simply traveling from point A to point B. The best journeys move your minds and your hearts.”

Perkowitz spoke of the journeys of his discipline, physics and astronomy, by discussing travel through space. But he also referenced terrestrial trips as well.

“For you, the new students, your journey might be an inch or two,” he said. “The thickness of a book read cover to cover as you sit at your desk or in the library. Or your momentous travel might cover a few inches right and left, up and down as your eyes scan across a work of art that newly illuminates the world for you. At this human level, journeys of the body are possible, too. So your key journey at Emory might be a matter of a few feet as you walk across the stage to deliver your lines in a theatrical production, or lunge across a tennis court to deliver the match-winning shot. Or your crucial journey might cover thousands of miles as you leave this campus to spend a summer or a semester abroad.”

The most important journeys, Perkowitz said, are those driven by quests. “If you find a voyage that is driven by a quest—that is, if you find your voyage, the one that gives you a goal to aim for and a star to follow—you are incredibly lucky,” he said. “You have added meaning in your life.”

Lynna Williams, associate professor of English and creative writing, spoke of still other voyages—those of imagination. Her prime tool was the title of her address—“Two Porcupines, a Comet and a Blues Guitarist; Can You Pass the Test?”

“If you can find a plausible way to connect them, I’ll come up with a suitable prize—using my imagination,” she said.

The job of tying all these journeys together fell to the final speaker, President Wagner.

“I will describe who you are on this journey with—who Emory is, the gangplank of this ship.” He stressed the language of the vision statement, introducing the newest members of the community to the inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse place they will call home for the next four years.

“To be inquiry driven is to be deliberately and genuinely curious,” he said. “We should not so much attempt to become learned as to become learners.” He counseled the standing-room-only auditorium of freshmen to be open to change, full of conviction and, perhaps most importantly, to be humble.

“If you get to a place when you can say, ‘I am learned,’ you are no longer a seeker,” Wagner said. “You are no longer inquiry driven. Find joy and strength together and through each other. Challenge and support each other in all that it means to be human.”

Following recent tradition, convocation was an interfaith service; Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the chapel and of religious, life delivered a Christian invocation. She was followed by a Muslim call to prayer. Benedictions from the Jewish and Hindu faiths concluded the event.