Leaving a Legacy

We’ve just concluded Commencement season at Emory, when past achievements and future plans meet up and send graduating students spinning off in all directions. For a brief, bright window, they hover between two worlds—one foot planted in the present, clearly marked by celebration and reflection on their achievements during their years here, and the other on the unfamiliar ground of the future, where their plans will show them the way forward.

No doubt this Commencement cycle was particularly poignant for President Wagner, who presided over his final graduation ceremony on May 9.

“I will ‘graduate’ today with gratitude for my own education in this place,” Wagner said in his address.

The University has benefited greatly from Wagner’s leadership and achievements, many of which are celebrated in our cover story that pays tribute to his transformative 13-year tenure and to the gracious contributions of Debbie Wagner. The president leaves a richly layered legacy that reaches virtually all corners of campus—including a resonant vision statement and strategic plan, new physical resources and stellar faculty hires, increased funding for research, and student recruitment efforts that have brought a higher caliber class to the University every fall. It is a fitting time for him and the Emory community to pause for a moment and enjoy those achievements together with our full attention, even as plans for Emory’s leadership transition and the Wagners’ next chapter take shape.

“When you leave here,” Wagner said, “we have no doubt that you also will carry your creativity, excellence, and character into the communities that await you.”

I’m sure most of us hope that our work will leave a meaningful record of some sort. In this issue, we also catch up with a handful for former editors of the Emory Wheel, many of whom have gone on to journalism careers with top news outlets such as the Washington Post, Esquire, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Atlanta Magazine. In the day-to-day pressure cooker of the media, I bet it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that their words—some hurriedly typed from a shabby campaign trail hotel in the wee hours, or carefully researched and scripted for an on-camera broadcast anchor—are becoming part of a permanent body of work through which their voices will be heard for a long time to come.

That’s an achievement worth enjoying, if just for a fleeting moment. Many of the alumni we spoke with also took the opportunity to look back on their work at the Wheel and how the experience helped them find their future direction. It was one of their earliest encounters with daily responsibility, late nights on deadline, and the understanding that they were making a lasting mark.

“The Wheel gave me my sense of myself,” says Mike Sager 78C, now writer-at-large for Esquire magazine and author of several books. “Who I am started there. It set me on a course I’ve followed for the rest of my life.”

Sometimes we don’t fully appreciate the importance of the everyday work we are doing—and the legacy it might leave—until the unwelcome diagnosis of a serious illness threatens to bring it to a screeching halt.

During the past decade, Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute has become a leading center for the treatment of multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood that once had a dismal prognosis. New drugs, treatments, and aggressive approaches pioneered at Winship have doubled patients’ life expectancy.

That means the three patients we meet in this magazine, along with hundreds of others at Winship, and thousands around the country, can have many, many more days to craft the personal legacies they will leave—caring for their children and grandchildren, spending time with their families, and appreciating the small, quiet moments that previously flew by unattended. Enjoying their present as well as their future.

In President Wagner’s words, “The best community is one that insists on room to honor and enjoy the miraculous diversity of humankind."

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