Still Standing

Carter advises students at the "peak of freedom"

Ann Borden

For thirty-four years, former US President Jimmy Carter has joined first-year Emory students for the annual Carter Town Hall—a spirited, no-holds-barred conversation that has become a coveted rite of passage for the university's newest class.

This year’s event, held September 16, was no exception, as Carter genially tackled every question put to him. But the always-popular gathering carried new resonance. In August, the ninety-one-year-old international statesman, Nobel laureate, and human rights advocate announced that he had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma and would be undergoing treatment at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute.

Carter took the stage at Woodruff P. E. Center and quickly addressed the diagnosis that he said, in the minds of many, has relegated him to “a position of illness, infirmity, and age.” To counter that image, he announced that instead of sitting in a chair that had been provided, he would stand to answer questions for the next hour, drawing a roar of support from the crowd of about 1,300 Emory students.

Many expressed gratitude for a rare opportunity—the chance to see someone with Carter’s international experience chat informally about issues large and small. 

For Cana McGhee 19C, a freshman majoring in music and math, the Carter Town Hall was a must-see event that held a heightened importance this year. “With the recent news about his health, I felt like, ‘This is something I absolutely need to do,’” she said. “That awareness is definitely there.”

Emory College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robin Forman said the Carter Town Hall offers “a remarkable opportunity for students to hear directly from someone with the breadth of experience that very few people have ever had—not just as a president, but as an active statesman who is still traveling the world, facing pressing global issues, with an unquenchable thirst to know, access to information, and a willingness to share his insights.”

It’s difficult to imagine “what Emory would be without The Carter Center being part of our university and without his presence,” he added. “They have both been a very special part of Emory for a long time and I hope they will be for much longer.”

The nonprofit Carter Center is an affiliate of Emory independently governed by a board of trustees that includes appointees from both The Carter Center and Emory, with Emory President James Wagner serving as an ex-officio member. Its programs focus on advancing human rights, presenting and resolving conflict, enhancing freedom and democracy, and improving health worldwide.

As an Emory University Distinguished Professor, Carter has maintained a direct relationship with the university, engaging in the lives of Emory faculty and students since he accepted the position in 1982.

At the conclusion of the town hall, Wagner stepped forward to award Carter with the President’s Medal, an honor Wagner said is intended “to recognize those who have, through art and/or intellect, advanced human understanding and the cause of peace.” Wagner noted that the medal had only been awarded four times during his twelve-year tenure at Emory.

“The partnership that has grown between The Carter Center and Emory University, and myself and Emory University, has been one of the highlights of my life,” Carter said.

Carter holds the record for the longest post-presidential career of any president, winning acclaim for his humanitarian work, including receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 1999, and the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.—Kimber Williams

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