February 2, 2004

Emory toasts its 89th birthday at banquet

By Eric Rangus

More than 400 alumni, students, faculty and staff toasted Emory's 89th birthday, Monday, Jan. 26, at the annual Charter Day banquet in Cox Hall.

The banquet, once a stand-alone event, served as one of the kickoffs for the first Charter Celebration, a weeklong academic festival of the arts and sciences to celebrate the 1915 chartering of Emory University.

Robin Thomas ('99C) served as master of ceremonies. He introduced the speaker, mixed in historical vignettes from Emory's past and kept the evening moving along at a steady pace.

"Tonight, we celebrate Emory for what it is and what it has meant for us," said Thomas, now a student in the Ph.D. program in art history at Columbia University.

The tone of each speaker was at times festive, wistful, optimistic, cautionary and challenging. With her speech "Dreams," Emory College senior Dana Weston fell into the "optimistic" category.

"To everyone in the room tonight, from the youngest to the oldest, you must dream," said the neuroscience and behavioral biology major from St. Louis. "Make the illogical logical, the impossible probable, and the unrealistic pragmatic. Once you do, the parameters of this world can no longer restrict you."

Speaking of what he called "the three Cs" (charter, crisis and commitment) alumnus Walter Beckham ('70C, '77L) touched on several themes.

"The charter established a family whose task is bringing the past and present together for the future," said Beckham, a member of the nominating committee for the Association of Emory Alumni's Board of Governors and an attorney with the Atlanta firm of Parks, Chesin, Walbert & Miller.

The "crisis" he spoke of dealt with increases in college tuition--a subject that was greeted with soft murmurs from the many students in the audience. Beckham said his bill for four years of tuition at Emory College, followed by a two-year MBA program at the University of Michigan, was $10,325. A student now would pay approximately $154,000 for the same education.

"The long-term implications both for Emory and for students are dire," he said. Beckham spoke of rising consumer debt, increased defaults on student loan payments and students who take jobs they don't really want just to pay off college debt. He discussed one way to help during his section on "commitment"; his solution also elicited murmurs.

 He challenged all Emory alumni to donate in their lifetime enough money to cover one year's tuition for one Emory undergraduate, and from the podium Beckham pledged to be the first one to follow through.

"Emory's evolution to greatness is not a spectator sport," he said. "We must all now get in the game."

Guests were entertained with songs from Emory's a cappella groups The Gathering (all women, including Weston) and No Strings Attached (all men).

Joined by candle-holding senior faculty members from each of Emory's schools, Swoop (the Emory mascot) and James W. Dooley (Emory's eternal spirit), President Jim Wagner offered the final toast of the evening, lit the towering birthday cake and led the crowd in the singing of the alma mater.

"We've been challenged to dream and work together to solve crises--things families do," said Wagner, attending his first Charter Day banquet. "Your respect for everything that is Emory is more like love. And I thank you for that," Wagner said, then raised his champagne glass for the final toast of the evening.