May 17, 2010

Oxford illuminates life's path

Oxford graduates step toward their next phase.

For graduating sophomore Apraha Henry-Fisher, her two years at Oxford College meant trying new things: joining a social club, shaving her head. “My time here was really great and challenging, I enjoyed it a lot,” said Henry-Fisher, who will be going on to Emory in the fall.

The Oxford College of Emory University Class of 2010 — 331 strong, in total — gathered May 8 under the shadow of Seney Hall to receive their Associate of Arts degrees.

Members of Oxford’s Class of 1960, clad in gold robes, gathered as well to take part in the ceremony and mark the 50th anniversary of their own commencement.

“We give thanks for today, and gratitude for those who came before us,” said Oxford College Chaplain Lyn Pace. “Their golden robes illuminate the path for the Class of 2010 . . . a life that bends toward justice and mercy.”

Commencement speaker Dennis Liotta, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry at Emory, said his son, John Liotta ’96Ox-’02C, developed at the college “a love of reading and writing that he has never lost.”

“Oxford provides a nurturing environment where students learn how to learn, learn how to lead, and learn how to recognize the important things in life,” Liotta said.

Liotta is the inventor of several antivirals used in medicines taken by 94 percent of those with HIV in the United States, but his own path toward becoming an accomplished scientist and professor at a major research university was not always smooth.

The take-away lesson, he told Oxford graduates, is not to let others “define your potential. Only you can determine what you’re capable of achieving.”

As director of the Emory Institute for Drug Discovery and the Republic of South Africa Drug Discovery Training Program, Liotta told the crowd that through his work with HIV/AIDS he has learned that being a novice in a field can be an advantage, and that you can’t sit back and wait for others to change the world. “Be proactive on an issue you are passionate about,” he said. “And if, at some point, you find yourself wavering, think back to your time at Oxford and reset your compass.”

Dean of Campus Life Joe Moon presented the Eady Sophomore Service Award to Evan Clayton Dunn, an Oxford Bonner Leader who, among other activities, built Habitat for Humanity homes over spring break and chaired the sophomore class gift committee. Dunn, said Moon, “gets things done but never seeks recognition. The breadth and depth of this student’s service is extraordinary.”

After President Jim Wagner conferred the degrees, Oxford Dean Stephen Bowen concluded the ceremony by congratulating the new graduates of Emory’s original campus, saying to them: “You are a part of Oxford, and Oxford is a part of you, and we are delighted that it is so.”

Graduate Brittany Echols found her mother, Kimberly Robinson, in the crowd. “I can’t really talk about it or I get emotional,” said Echols, who is going on to Emory in the fall as a psychology major. “I am so glad this is where I spent my first two years.”

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