Emory Report
May 27, 2008
Volume 60, Number 31


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May 27, 2008
Class of 2008 urged to use legacy to build a better world

BY Carol Clark

A brisk wind stirred the oaks as the ancient sound of bagpipes filled the Quad for Emory’s 163rd Commencement on May 12. The gusts shook the last of the pollen from the trees as members of the class of 2008 prepared to sow their dreams in the wider world.

“You have been a class committed to legacy,” President Jim Wagner told the 3,595 graduates. He thanked them for creating a book of Emory lore to give to freshmen, for reviving the tradition of Wonderful Wednesdays and for starting new ones: Synergy, to encourage acts of random kindness; Health Students Taking Action Together, to tackle health reform; and the Global Access Partnership, linking medical discoveries to the developing world.

“The goodness of this community is here because you have invested yourselves in it,” Wagner said. “Take with you the moral blueprints of what you have helped to build here. The world needs you to continue to exercise and grow the compassion, the knowledge, the wisdom that you have gained in this community.”

Keynote speaker Bernie Marcus, the king of do-it-yourself, spoke about the power of building anew whenever the graduates faced setbacks in their lives. The climb up the career ladder began beneath the bottom rung for Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot chain.

“I am a first generation American who started my life in a fourth-floor, walk-up tenement in Newark, New Jersey,” he said.

When a quota system and lack of money shattered his dream of becoming a doctor, Marcus earned a pharmacy degree instead. He later moved into retailing, becoming CEO of a major chain of stores in California. “Then, at the age of 49, pow!

I was fired,” Marcus said. He rebuilt his life again, partnering with Arthur Blank to create The Home Depot.
The joy of philanthropy was the biggest reward of his success, Marcus told the graduates. “Start getting involved now,” he said. “Whether you share knowledge or money or time, our world needs your passion, your risk-taking, your enthusiasm, your courage, your wisdom and your leadership.”

The United States has been at war for longer than the graduating seniors have been in college. The average price of a gallon of gas, which seemed high during their freshman year at about $1.60, has shot up to $3.60. The country teeters on the brink of recession and the polar ice caps continue to shrink.

But technology, and growing awareness of an interconnected world, heralds the promise of a new era, said Bill Nye during his Class Day speech prior to Commencement.

Revel in “the joy of discovery,” urged Nye, an engineer, comedian and Emmy-winning TV host, known as “The Science Guy.”

He told the graduating seniors to use their brains to innovate a different way of life.

“You need to find ways to do more with less. That’s the key,” Nye said.

“What will you be doing in 2015?” he asked. “I imagine most of you will have kids, mortgages and back pain. But I hope most of you will also be on your way to changing the world.”