May 24, 2004

Celebration shared by Emory’s old and new


By Eric Rangus

Emory added more than 3,330 new graduates to its alumni rolls as the Class of 2004 received their diplomas at the University’s 159th Commencement ceremony, Monday, May 10.

“This moment marks the culmination of years of study and preparation that have gone into your degrees,” said President Jim Wagner, leading his first Emory Commencement. “The presence of family signifies the support, the love and the belief in you that helped to make this moment possible.”

Following a night of rain showers, a warm, sunny day greeted the graduates and their families, many of whom had been celebrating since the week before. The Quadrangle ceremony and the individual school diploma ceremonies that followed it capped five days’ worth of activity, which for the first time combined the newly formulated Emory Weekend with Commencement. The result was an almost nonstop celebration of all things Emory.

This marriage of old and new graduates was most prevalent at the main ceremony when the Class of 1954 marched down the aisle in gold robes to take their seats near the stage. Led by new Deputy Marshal for Alumni Gerald Lowrey, Corpus Cordis Aureum (Latin for “golden corps of the heart”), which also included pre-1954 graduates, had the honor of escorting the Class of 2004 onto the Quadrangle.

More than 56 percent of the approximately 3,331 graduates were female, and they represented 46 states and 78 countries. The oldest degree candidate was 63-year-old Kenneth Linnell, who earned a master’s of divinity degree. The youngest was Kenneth DeSousa, 20, who received a B.S. in biology.

The 90-minute Quadrangle graduation exercises deftly blended ceremony and festivity. The Silly String-shooting nursing graduates and the law graduates, who smuggled in beach balls and an inflatable gorilla, demonstrated their joy in the most innovative ways. Highlighting the program was the Commencement address by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights from 1997–2002 (see address).

“You might wish that I could offer a simple road map for life or a set of tried and true rules that will show you the way,” said Robinson, who was Emory’s second consecutive Ireland native to deliver the Commencement address. Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney spoke in 2003.

“But the reality is that each one of you will need to rely on your own moral compass to find your paths,” she continued. “When you look back many years from now, I believe you’ll realize how formative the experience of being here at Emory was during these times in developing your own inner sense of direction, your own sense of obligation to yourself, to your families and communities, and to the world around you.”

Traditionally, each honorary degree recipient is invited to say a few words to the graduates. Trustee emeritus James Bryan Williams used 30. (“Emory has meant a lot to me for a long time—more than 50 years—and I just can’t tell you how much this degree means to me. Thank you,” was the entirety of his address.)

President emeritus of the United States Olympic Committee LeRoy Walker, also concise, spoke of the importance of sacrifice during his minute-long comments. Medieval historian Caroline Walker Bynum, speaking on her 63rd birthday, was a bit more expansive, making cogent points about community during her three-minute address.

As this was Wagner’s first time officiating the ceremony, it was not without a bump or two. At one point, he forgot to offer the microphone to Walker after the honorary degree recipient was hooded. Wagner quickly realized the error and invited Walker back to the front of the stage where he delivered one of the morning’s more memorable lines.

“As I talked to President Wagner [previously], he has clearly indicated to you how you represent this great University,” Walker said. “And to remember that no jackass has ever won the Kentucky Derby.”

“I’m so glad we didn’t forget to get back to you,” Wagner quipped as he returned to the podium.