Emory Report
September 4, 2007
Volume 60, Number 2

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September 4, 2007
Notes to Class of 2011: Open your mind and dream big

By carol Clark

Freshmen in the most diverse class in Emory’s history entered the University with a Convocation celebrating the power they hold to transform themselves, their campus, their communities and their world. Open your minds and dream big, the Class of 2011 was told.

“To this place, you will add your own experience and intellect and imagination,” said Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the University, who kicked off the Aug. 28 ceremony in Glenn Memorial Auditorium. She quoted from a public lecture Emory Distinguished Writer in Residence Salman Rushdie gave there in the spring: “We are all dreaming creatures. To dream is also to create.”

Drew Westen, professor of psychology and psychiatry, recounted how his own dreams and expectations evolved during his academic life, and continue to do so. “I remember when I was in your shoes, 30 years and 50 pounds ago,” he said. “I started out thinking I was going to be an English major and a journalist. My senior year, I took my first psychology course and fell in love with it.”

He went on to get his Ph.D. and became a clinician and researcher, focusing on personality disorders. But in 2004, he became intrigued by partisan behaviors of voters and started neurological research in this area. That led to the unexpected turn of him writing a book, “The Political Brain,” and being asked by U.S. presidential candidates to share his knowledge.

The advice he gives to candidates is the same he offered to students: pay attention to heartfelt emotions. “They’ll tell you what you’re passionate about and, sometimes, what you’re passionate about will be completely what you didn’t expect,” Westen said.

The keynote honor went to Frances Smith Foster, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Women’s Studies and chair of the English department. She offered a free lunch to the first student who could tell her, following the ceremony, the name of the author she had paraphrased for the title of her talk: “One or Two Things I Know for Sure.”

“Emory College is a liberal arts college,” she said. “It’s not a preparatory school, a professional school, a finishing school, a job fair or a credentialing service. It’s not even a party school since Buckhead has gone high-rise and all business.”

Those who merely seek a degree so they can get a job and retire at 40 could do so more easily and more cheaply elsewhere, Foster said. “But if you came to learn, to test your limits, to expand you knowledge, to enjoy, thrive and contribute to the common good, then you are in the right place, Emory, at the right time — now.”

She challenged the students to do all of the following during their first semester: go to a free campus movie in a language you don’t know; attend a concert of music or dance you’ve never experienced; go to a reading by an author you’ve never heard of; learn a new sport — or teach someone else one. “Resolve to have a conversation with a person from a place or culture you know little or nothing about. Maybe even one that makes you a little uncomfortable,” she said.

The greatest lesson students need to learn before graduation, Foster said, is “the symbiotic relationship among Emory College, the University, the liberal arts and your own liberation.”

Emory is a community working for positive transformation in the world, President Jim Wagner told the freshmen in his concluding remarks. “Our intent for students at Emory is that you are part of this community, so it’s not so much that things happen to you while you are here. It’s that you are to help us achieve our collective aspirations and, in that process, be changed yourselves.”

So who won the lunch with Foster? “When I came out, these three guys came rushing to me with the answer: Dorothy Allison,” she said. Pierce Hand, Danny Desatnile and Ryan Huang will be dining with Foster and will likely get a chance to meet Allison herself when she visits Emory in the spring.

“Did I expect freshmen men to be that deep into Allison’s canon? No,” Foster said. “It surprised me, and it’s exciting.”