Emory Report
Sept. 5, 2006
Volume 59, Number 2


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Sept. 5, 2006
Gifts, grace, gratitude greet class of 2010


From the beaker of chemicals that turned from gold to blue in synch with Emory’s alma mater to the snapping fingers of an audience united into a jazz band, there was plenty of chemistry in Glenn Auditorium at freshman Convocation. On Tuesday, Aug. 29., Emory welcomed the Class of 2010—its largest ever—with a mix of scholarly tradition and audience participation.

As in years past, the ceremony began with a procession of colorfully robed faculty and the regal sound of bagpipes.

Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the University, set the tone by welcoming the Class of 2010 to “join the venerable company of scholars.”

In the spirit of the poet Shel Silverstein—“who describes a time and place such as this, that moment where the sidewalk ends, yet before the street begins”—Magee personalized the poem, “Invitation.” “If you are a dreamer, come in! If you are a wisher, a thinker, a prayer, a hoper, a seeker, come in! If you are a dreamer, come in, come in!”

Provost Earl Lewis greeted the 1,340 new faces that filled every possible seat. “For you, the students, this ceremony initiates the journey of study, challenge and discovery,” he said. “For us, the faculty and administration, this Convocation is a renewal of 170 years of tradition and our dedication to teaching, research and service.”

Dwight Andrews, associate professor in the department of music, worked up the crowd’s appetite for that journey by leading a clap-and-response and quick jazz lesson that had everyone swinging. “This is the beginning of your being cool,” he said. “And if you are going to be at Emory, you’ve got to be cool.”
On the plate for the Convocation address was the importance of gifts, grace and gratitude—with a side order of grits.

Frank Alexander, professor of law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, used the Southern staple food to illustrate how gifts, grace and gratitude lay the foundation for integrity. The story: a New Yorker orders breakfast in a Georgia diner and is surprised when his plate arrives with grits next to the eggs and bacon. He asks the waitress about this “white stuff” that he didn’t ask for, and the waitress replies, “You don’t order grits; they just come to you.”

“As in the case of grits, none of you placed an order before you were born for a specific menu of talents—they just came to you,” said Alexander, who received Emory’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award at the 2006 Commencement. He urged students to think about their academic abilities and other talents as a gift, to recognize that “a gift is something we do not earn,” and to “never confuse achievements with gifts.”

“The appreciation of gifts is the first element of integrity,” he said. “Knowing that they are acts of grace is the second. Responding with gratitude to that which has been gracefully given is the third.”

He acknowledged the determination and hard work that brought each freshman to Emory, joking that it must have taken a “great deal of grit, perhaps even grits.” He reminded them that “it matters not so much what you have been given; it matters greatly what you do with what you have been given.”

In his closing remarks, President Jim Wagner emphasized individual opportunity and collective responsibility.
“From this season on, you are not merely attending Emory, you are Emory,” Wagner said. “Emory offers great individual opportunity, and insists on the exercise of great responsibility to the community. I can assure you by continuing to do so you will experience satisfaction, genuine success, joy and fun, the sort of things that make us all fully alive. Welcome to Emory.”

As Convocation concluded with a benediction of Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Christian and Muslim blessings, the freshmen followed orientation leaders in lime green T-shirts onto the lush Glenn Memorial Church lawn. Here the president offered the annual Coca-Cola toast and students enjoyed an ice cream social hosted by the Association of Emory Alumni.

Continuing a tradition started by the Class of 2005, the Class of 2010 then donned shovels for the planting of a tree, and set down roots at Emory.