The Circumstances of Pomp

The procession on the Quad at the beginning of the Commencement ceremony

142–153. Commencement

It’s a springtime rite at colleges and universities everywhere: presidents and faculty dust off their academic regalia as proud, teary, dressed-up parents buy branded merchandise and graduating seniors grapple with goodbyes and growing up. Here are a dozen things that make Emory’s Commencement special:

  • 142. At the first Commencement in 1840, there were no graduates; in 2011, there were 3,879.
  • 143. The early Commencement ceremonies took place outdoors in July, and lasted most of the day, as at least a dozen student speakers would hold forth for half an hour or more.
  • 144. The tradition of appointing faculty marshals began in 1858 to keep the restive, rowdy crowd under control so that the speakers could be heard.
  • 145. The late history professor George Cuttino, who served as university chief marshal from 1976 until 1984, was passionate about the heraldry of Commencement and helped shape many of Emory’s modern traditions. One of the awards given at Commencement is the George P. Cuttino Award for Excellence in Mentoring, established in 1997 by trustee John T. Glover in honor of Cuttino, who was known as a guide and counselor beyond the classroom.
  • 146. The university mace, carried in the Commencement procession by the bedel—traditionally the president of the Student Government Association—was a gift to the university from D.V.S., the Emory College senior honor society, presented at Emory’s 50th Anniversary Convocation in 1965. It was specially designed with Cuttino’s guidance and made in London. Adorned with the Emory seal, the skeletal Dooley, and a cross, the gold-and-silver mace is a descendant of medieval staffs: the regal scepter and the battle-mace.
  • 147. In 1902, Joel Chandler Harris of “Uncle Remus” fame received an honorary degree. More recent recipients and speakers include Alben William Barkley, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hank Aaron, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Johnnetta Cole, Christiane Amanpour, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Seamus Heaney, Tom Brokaw, Paul Farmer, Bernard (Bernie) Marcus, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Janet Napolitano.
  • 148. Emory volunteers set up some 15,000 chairs on the Quadrangle for each Commencement, and serve as hosts and ushers, wearing trademark straw hats.
  • 149. The Atlanta Pipe Band has provided the poignant wail of the bagpipes in the procession for the last quarter-century. The tune “Emory and Old St Andrews March,” composed in 1986 to honor the university’s Sesquicentennial, celebrates the relationship between Emory and its sister institution, the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
  • 150. Emory’s highest student awards are presented at Commencement: the Brittain Award for service, the McMullan Award recognizing leadership (accompanied by $20,000), and the Eady Sophomore Service Award at Oxford.
  • 151. At the close of the ceremony, students offer prayers from five different faith traditions.
  • 152. That flash of gold and gray in the Commencement procession is likely the Golden Corps of the Heart, a group established in 2004 by the Emory Alumni Association to honor those who graduated fifty years ago or more. These alumni join the ceremony wearing special golden medallions and robes.
  • 153. Like paparazzi, the staff of Emory Photo Video are everywhere during the dozens of Commencement events, shooting an average of 8,700 photos in five days.

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Our next category of note: Milestone Moments.

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