Emory Report
September 2, 2008
Volume 61, Number 2



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2, 2008
From Beowulf to Obama, freshmen enjoy epic launch

By carol clark

Convocation took the class of 2012 on a whirlwind trip through time, entertaining the freshmen with an ancient “fire-wrapped” dragon, a 1930s swing band and glimpses of what lies ahead as they embark on their collective journey into the realm of higher education.

“Dragons go by many names on Earth – but they are always the same dragon,” said James Morey, associate professor of English, as he launched into a reading from the epic poem of “Beowulf.” The strange but powerful sounds of Old English rang through Glenn Memorial as the freshman followed the modern English text of the age-old tale of a hostile dragon, buried treasure and a man who dares to plunder it.

James Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, delivered the address, titled “Our Future.” He contrasted the students with the stage party of faculty and administrators: “We’re really old. You on the other hand are really young. I mean, after all, some of you were born after 1989. We on the stage think Barack Obama is young, but by 1989, he was already editor of the Harvard Law Review and speculating among friends that he might someday run for office.”

Curran encouraged the students to start learning their own leadership styles. “Don’t be afraid to think of yourself as a future leader, like Barack Obama,” he said.

He described the twists and turns his own career took, from a dream of becoming a surgeon to a residency in obstetrics, and the discovery that he loved public health. Curran was working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when “some men started getting a funny disease that is now called AIDS — a very terrible disease that is now the fourth leading cause of death in the world. I was detailed to work on that for a short three months, but I have been working on it ever since, for 27 years.”

Curran offered the following advice: “Set some goals and take yourself seriously — but not too seriously. Get to know yourself and your strengths. I hope you will develop the self-confidence that you deserve, and true humility. These will serve you well. Enjoy your career at Emory, and enjoy your entire career as much as I have. And, finally, go into public health.”

Dwight Andrews, associate professor of music theory, then took the stage. “I’m going to test you and see how hip you really are,” he told the students. Backed up by a bass player and a jazz singer, Andrews got everyone clapping rhythms and singing the parts of instruments in a 1930s swing band, from “Bahhhh-dah!” for trombones to “Ba! Ba! Da!” for trumpets.

“Snap your fingers! Can you move your heads a little bit? Now give me a little bass,” Andrews encouraged the students and faculty, who showed they could jam and create beautiful music together. “Wow! That’s really cool, isn’t it?”