Coda: A Courageous Example

Jason Raish

This month, we welcomed President Jimmy Carter back to campus for what has become a highly anticipated tradition: the annual Carter Town Hall with students. As the former president and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, begin their thirty-sixth year of service at Emory, now seems like a good time to remember their contributions and reflect on what they mean to our academic community.

President Carter has had the most accomplished and admired post-presidency in history. At the center of his life is service. The breadth and magnitude of his charitable and human rights initiatives are unprecedented. From building thousands of homes with Habitat for Humanity to advancing democracy around the world, from working for peace in the Middle East to teaching Sunday school in Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter is living proof that cynicism and despair are best answered with engagement.

With all that he has achieved and in spite of the very deserved recognition he receives, President Carter has remained humble and true to his simple roots. As a recent profile in the Washington Post noted, his is a life of modesty, humility, and relentless activity. He returned home after the presidency and moved back into the two-bedroom ranch house he and Rosalynn have owned since 1967.

It is a rare courage that propels his humanitarian work around the world. Through The Carter Center, he and Rosalynn have fought for justice and human rights in numerous countries. They have confronted some of the most difficult and intractable diseases, such as Guinea worm disease, that disproportionately affect the poorest of the poor.

One thing Carter has taught me is the importance of giving thanks. This fall begins my third year as president of Emory, but it also marks my twenty-third year as a member of the Emory community. As I think back on my own journey, I want to express my gratitude to the alumni and special friends who have helped build and sustain the place we love. Today, Emory is widely recognized as one of America’s finest universities—an achievement and an honor that never would have happened without the extraordinary contributions of those who came before us, as well as those who continue to give generously.

I also want to say thank you to our outstanding faculty and staff. More than 33,000 individuals come to work each day here. Joining us this academic year are 308 new faculty members and approximately five thousand new staff across Emory University and Emory Healthcare. Already these individuals are making significant contributions and bringing fr esh perspectives to our shared mission.

Our students inspire my deepest gratitude–and my ongoing admiration. Students are the lifeblood of this university. They bring energy and curiosity; they raise tough and wonderful questions; they demonstrate persistence. They push those of us who’ve been at this work for a while to engage in difficult conversations. They keep us honest. I had the privilege of meeting our newest students when I helped some of them move in during Orientation Weekend. I can say without hesitation that this year’s newest undergraduate class, the Class of 2022, is going to leave us a changed and better place.

Emory is fundamentally an institution of hope and opportunity. We exist to advance knowledge, open doors, strengthen communities, push the boundaries of science, and pursue truth. To this end, our work is never done, and we are always learning. And the opportunities to make a ddifference are never exhausted.

Carter’s ongoing work reminds me of what true compassion looks like. It is intelligent, forward-looking, and willing to confront challenges that might seem, at first glance, unsolvable. When Guinea worm disease is eradicated, it will become only the second human disease in history to be wiped off our planet—and the first to be eradicated without a vaccine or a medicine.

I like the way the Dalai Lama, another one of our Emory Distinguished Professors, put it: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.”

Without presuming to make predictions about the coming year, I’m confident it will be surprising, exciting, and rewarding.

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