Emory Report
May 29, 2007
Volume 59, Number 31

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May 29, 2007
Oxford experience prepares graduates for next leg of their academic journey

by mary loftus

As the centuries-old bell in the clock tower atop Seney Hall tolled, Dean Stephen Bowen congratulated 317 Oxford College students for “completing one stage of your education and commencing the next.”

Bowen presided over the ceremonies on Saturday, May 12, as graduating sophomores and college faculty put on medieval robes, sounded the bagpipes, and held Oxford’s 162nd Commencement.

Commencement speaker J. Neal Purcell ’61Ox – ’63B, a member of the Emory Board of Trustees, Atlanta civic leader and retired vice chair of KPMG, reminisced about his own years at Oxford — including an organic chemistry experiment in the old science building that went “terribly awry.”

“It caused the evacuation of the entire building, at which time I reconsidered my plan to become a pharmacist,” he said. “I decided that business — any business — would be safer for me and everyone around me.”

And then there was the swimming class where Professor Emeritus Judy Greer had to “fish me out of the pool” after Purcell became disoriented.

Nevertheless, Purcell said, attending Oxford and then Emory was an outstanding experience that prepared him well for his career in accounting and later, public governance.

Those he knows who have found success in their careers as well as their lives, he told the graduates, shared several common traits: helping others along the way, demanding excellence in everything they do and not basing their opinions solely on the opinions of others, even the media.

“Also, never agree to do anything that you’re not committed to finishing — and finishing when you said you were going to,” said Purcell. “In school, it might be better late than never, but in reality, it’s better never than late.”

Finding success, he said, relies on having ambitious vision. “Don’t be afraid to set goals that to others appear unrealistic,” he said. “I’ve never met anyone in a leadership position who didn’t know what they wanted to do next, and had a plan for getting there.”

The Eady Sophomore Service Award was presented to Safiya Jetha, who “demonstrated over and over again that when something worthwhile needed doing” she suddenly appeared, said Dean of Campus Life Joseph Moon in presenting the award.

Jetha was in the college choral, Leadership Oxford, and served on the freshman council; she cooked with the Culinary Club, participated in POOCH (the college pet adoption program) and the Transforming Community project, was an officer in Outdoor Oxford, sang with Function of Five, and was involved in environmental conservation and sustainability efforts. She twice traveled with Oxford service groups to New Orleans to assist in hurricane relief efforts. Moon praised her “spirit of generosity and ability to diffuse tension and conflict.”

Dean of Academic Affairs Kent Linville presented the Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching to Professor William Shapiro, who has taught political science at Oxford for more than two decades. Former students said Shapiro “expects only the best and forces you to deliver the best”; “taught me to challenge myself and my academic conventions” and praised his “confidence . . . and blunt candor.”

After the ceremony, families gathered beneath the canopy of trees to eat dessert tarts and drink lemonade and sweet tea.

Graduate Thomas Daniel was joined by three generations of Oxford and Emory graduates from his own family: sister, Elizabeth Daniel Harlan ’03Ox–’04C; mother, Linda Vaden Daniel ’75C; father, William T. Daniel Jr. ’73Ox–’75C; uncle Mark L. Daniel ’79Ox–’81C; and grandmother, Nonagene Farrill Daniel ’43N–’48C. Thomas Daniel’s late grandfather, William Thomas Daniel ’54L, also was an Emory graduate.
“Just yesterday, dad was telling me about a time when he and about 30 other guys put another student’s VW Bug into the entranceway of Seney Hall,” said Thomas Daniel, who will continue on to Emory to purse a pre-med track. “He said he didn’t want to tell me until now, just in case it gave me ideas.”

Nonagene Daniel, an early graduate of Emory’s nursing school, was one of the first women to graduate from Emory College in 1948. “I had finished nursing school in 1943 and gone into the Navy as a nurse, then went back to college,” she said. “I taught on the nursing faculty at Emory from 1948 to 1952, when I started my family.”
Wonock Ahn, who wore a ceremonial Korean dress festooned with a crimson bow and flowers, proudly watched her son Douk Ahn graduate in cap and gown — although he quickly changed into a T-shirt and shorts to finish packing. His sister, Somyung Ahn, is a senior at Walton High School in Marietta, and has been accepted to Oxford for the fall. The family moved from South Korea to the Atlanta area five years ago.

Graduate Zenobia Janel Bryant sat on a bench with her mother, Jeri Bryant, and her grandmother, Cora Johnson. Zenobia Bryant grew up in Covington, where her grandmother still lives. “She’s very active — she shops and gardens and attends church regularly, even at 95 — and I am active, too,” Zenobia Bryant said. “I had a wonderful experience here at Oxford and got to stay close to my family as well.”