Emory Report
May 18, 2009
Volume 61, Number 31

Twins Seni and Tola Ajibade graduate from Oxford.

James Laney with his grandaughter Rachel.

Oxford graduates march to the ceremony.


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May 18
, 2009
Oxford: Excellence with a soul

By Mary Loftus

When twins Seni and Tola Ajibade first showed up at Oxford College, their professors were sometimes confused: how could the same student be everywhere at once? But by the time the brothers graduated on May 9, they had each made a distinctive mark on campus, as had each of the 351 members of the Oxford College Class of 2009.

Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life Susan Henry-Crowe gave the invocation for the celebratory day, thanking “professors and mentors who opened new windows to the world” for the graduates, and praying that they have “the power to be aware and gentle.”

Oxford Dean Emeritus William Murdy, standing in for Dean Stephen Bowen, who was attending his daughter’s graduation from Earlham Col-lege, introduced Commencement speaker and Emory President Emeritus James Laney. “The Emory we know today,” said Murdy, “is in many ways the product of his vision.”

Laney, former ambassador to South Korea, who served as dean of the Candler School of Theology before leading the University from 1977 to 1993, said he had gained personal insight into “the genius of Oxford” after his son, Arthur Laney ’77Ox–’79C, and four of his grandchildren attended the College, including Rachel Laney ’09Ox, a member of this year’s class.

Graduates, Laney said, should be guided not by “self-preoccupation, but by a loftier sense of purpose . . . . We have seen where excellence without a soul, where that leads us.” Leadership at its best, he added, is about getting others “to sign on with you, not beating them out.”

The late president of the Coca-Cola Company and Emory benefactor Robert W. Woodruff was the embodiment of “excellence with a soul,” Laney said. To put it bluntly, he “gave a damn.”

“Education,” said Laney, “instills the discipline, knowledge and mastery necessary for everyday life. But the best education offers something more — more than a pragmatic way to make a living. That ‘more’ is what you’ve received here in the past two years.”

In addition to the graduates and their families and friends, also in attendance at Oxford’s 164th Commencement were 40 Golden Robe participants, the greatest number the College has had participate. The Class of 1959 was out in full force, having held a party the night before at Oxford Professor Emeritus Judy Greer’s home, in whose name the class has established a scholarship.

Among the class was Anne Worrell ’59Ox, who met her husband, Chuck Worrell ’58Ox, when they were undergraduates. “We met right here, walking across that campus,” she said, gesturing across the lawn. “Our first kiss, everything.” Their son, Charles III, went on to attend Oxford as well.

The Virgil Y.C. Eady Sophomore Service Award, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and was presented on what would have been Dean Eady’s 110th birthday, was given to Helen Hill ’09Ox, who served in Leadership Oxford, was a College tour guide, worked in the sustainable garden, was president of Oxford Fellowship, sang in the choir and did research in Botswana and Namibia. “Helen,” said Dean of Campus Life Joseph Moon, “brings her head and heart to all she undertakes.”