May 30 , 2006
Annual Oxford ritual a bridge between two campuses
BY mary loftus
The thin blue line of Oxford College graduates processed solemnly through the “Temple of the Trees”—just as graduates have done near that very spot for more than 160 years. Congratulatory balloons and bouquets, parents holding digital cameras, alumni returning for their class reunions, and elated relatives young and old gave a festive atmosphere to the May 13 ceremony honoring 289 graduates—the first to be overseen by Oxford Dean Stephen Bowen.
And, for the morning at least, it was all sunshine and blue skies.
“It seems like even the weather is celebrating the accomplishments of these students today—the singing birds, the whispering trees, the cool temperatures, make our hearts soar,” said Oxford Chaplain Judy Shema, who led the invocation.
Rites and rituals were, appropriately, the theme of the day, made manifest not only by the ceremony itself but by Commencement speaker Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology.
“Let me begin with a confession: I love Commencement. I love the traditions, the bagpipe, the pageantry. It signifies that something special is happening,” said Duke, a faculty fellow at Emory’s Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, who has attended 36 Emory Commencements. “Rituals may be thought of as gateways between one condition in life and another … at the very point of transition.”
Just as rituals connect graduates from one year the next, and one generation to the next, so too does a sense of place, Duke said.
“Oxford is a place with which you have a relationship, a place you can love, be angry with, lean upon, wish to leave, wish to stay,” he said. “It is a place you can carry with you, think back upon and long for. You have been nurtured in the warmth of this campus. The Seney [Hall] bell will silently sound every 30 minutes in your hearts.”
Graduates who advance to the Atlanta campus, Duke continued, become living bridges between Oxford and Emory, and he urged those doing so next fall to take a moment to stand before the Haygood-Hopkins gate at the University’s main entrance, honoring Atticus Greene Haygood 1859C (Emory’s president from 1875 to 1884) and Isaac Stiles Hopkins 1859C (president from 1884 to 1888).
“Those two pillars joined together by a delicate steel
span … serve to cement the ‘old’ Emory to the new. They ensure and strengthen the relationship to those who began this great institution, on this spot, in 1836,” Duke said, as he advised students to heed Haygood’s saying inscribed on the gate: “We must stand by what is good, and make it better if we can.”
Oxford Dean for Campus Life Joe Moon presented the Eady Sophomore Service Award, given each year to an Oxford student for outstanding service to campus life “without seeking reward or recognition,” to Marlon Abraham Rhine. During her time at Oxford, Rhine was a student government senator, an orientation leader, a member of Leadership Oxford, Dooley’s spokesperson, and an intramural soccer star. She even shared musical talents as a guitarist for a tsunami relief benefit and Peruvian orphanage fundraiser, among other activities.
“Marlon came early and stayed late,” said Moon, “to support campus events.”
Dean of Academic Affairs Kent Linville presented the Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching to Charles Howard Candler Professor of English Lucas Carpenter for his “innovative and effective teaching strategies, and encouraging students to think independently.” Carpenter, who has taught at Oxford for two decades, holds the college’s first endowed chair and was the first Oxford professor to be honored with Emory’s University Scholar/Teacher Award.