February 16, 2004

Of Emory and dreams

Dana Weston is a senior majoring in neuroscience and behavioral biology.

When I wrote the poem from which the excerpt below was taken, I had no idea that I would be reciting it in front of you: Emory students, faculty, alumni, trustees and friends. However, as I pondered   what to say to help celebrate Emory's charter, I could think of nothing more applicable and appropriate.

Students, your dreams are still vibrant. If you are anything like me, you are now in the refining stages--smoothing edges, filling in holes and polishing the surface of the dreams you left home with. I challenge you to hold on to those dreams. Do not become disillusioned with the reality of this world, and forget what you see now when you close your eyes.

Alumni, your dreams have changed forms over the years and perhaps gotten lost in the hustle of the so-called "real world." Outside forces, situations and time itself have dictated your choices and paths. I challenge you to remember your dreams, for therein lies your purpose.

If you are a doctor but your dream was to teach, it is not too late to teach. If you are a salesperson but your dream was to produce movies, it is not too late to enter the world of film. If you sit at your desk every day, mildly content, but your dream was to be a singer, you just missed the Atlanta auditions for "American Idol"--but it will be back next year, and it is not too late for you to sing.

As German poet and novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in his Demian, "There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself."   The world within--your dreams--is waiting to get out.

Be a rebel. Let it.

Faculty, this discussion of your dreams is perhaps the most interesting because it is twofold.    I speak to you the same words as to the alumni--remember your dreams and make them your   reality.

However you have another duty, perhaps an even greater one: You are dream cultivators. Every day, dreamers sit in front of you, and knowingly or not, you either water their dreams and help them grow, or pull them up by the roots and help initiate an unalterable withering. I challenge you today to treat every student like a dream.

I know there are so many of us. We come to you with our many problems, excuses, fake illnesses and multiple doctors' notes. But inside every one of us is a dream, and you became a professor--or an administrator, or a board member, or whatever position you hold here at Emory--because you believed in that dream. You wield immeasurable power.

So next time you are tempted to look at students in any school as numbers instead of dreams, remember the words of Langston Hughes:

            What happens to a dream deferred?

            Does it dry up

            like a raisin in the sun?

            Or fester like a sore--

            and then run?...

            Or does it explode?

Faculty, continue to dream and create dreamers.

And to everyone on campus, from the youngest to the oldest, you must dream. Make the illogical logical, the impossible probable, and the unrealistic pragmatic. Once you do, the parameters of this world can no longer restrict you.

So ... good essay, Dana. But what does this have to do with Charter Day?

Over the years, Emory has propelled my dreams.

In 2000, Emory gave me the gift of independence and let me live out my dream of living life on my own ... while still being able to call home for money.

In 2001, Emory gave me the gift of courage as tough courses, family loss and racial tension threatened my sanity. I survived and fulfilled my dream of having a spirit of steel that can not only endure, but be a leader in the midst of the battle.

In 2002, Emory gave me the gift of wisdom as I realized that what I had thought was my dream was in reality the dream of others for me. It was here at Emory that I closed my eyes, saw all that this world said could never be, and believed it could.

And in 2003, now 2004, my final year at this University, Emory is giving me the gift of freedom--and with it all the tools, love and support my dreams will need in the years to come.

Charter Day is a birthday celebration of sorts for Emory, and it is tradition to give the guest of honor a gift. But what could I possibly give to a University that already has so much?

I thought about making a financial contribution, but after checking my balance, I thought it best to reconsider that option.

So then I thought about baking Emory a birthday cake; however my roommates, who know my inadequacies in this arena, advised against it.

I wanted to donate my sister; my parents said no.

I wanted to give myself and just remain a student here forever; my parents said no.

I wanted to paint our house gold and blue as free advertising for the University. Guess what my parents said.

Then it came to me. Emory is not this campus, not this celebration--no, Emory dwells within the people who love it, the people who have taken from and given to this University. So what will I give you as a gift? The same gift that Emory gave me: dreams.

Everyone reading this newspaper, find someone nearby--don't frighten them--and grab their hand. Now, close your eyes and dream of something big. Perhaps it is something you have always dreamed of; perhaps it is a dream you have forgotten. Most likely, it is a dream someone told you was impossible. Have your dream? Now with your eyes closed, squeeze the hand you are holding and repeat after me: I believe you can do that. Let me know when it happens.

Next time someone tells you to get your head out of the clouds, smile and say no thanks. If they were smart, they would join you there.

This essay is adapted from Weston's address at the 2004 Charter Celebration Dinner, held Jan. 26 in Cox Hall. Weston's poem (below) also was presented at the event.


As I close my eyes, I rise
transcending space and time
My mind races to fields of
purple grass and orange trees
pink butterflies and blue honeybees
and all other things this world says
can never be
Well they are... in my dreams

In my dreams, women rule the world
and PMS exempts you from stress
so I'm carefree
In my dreams
cures end disease
all the oppressed are free
money flows like warmed honey
and...Eminem raps about love.

Young women search for real men to date
young boys find real men to emulate
our fate is
peace, joy, love, unity,
and all other things this world says
can never be
Well they are... in my dreams

–Dana Weston