Emory Report
May 29, 2007
Volume 59, Number 31

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May 29, 2007
Class of 2007 embraces an interconnected world

by carol clark

Connections were the overriding theme at Emory’s 162nd Commencement on May 14. Not just the shared hopes of the seniors, faculty and well-wishers gathered for the ceremony, but the growing bonds of Emory with the wider world.

A cool, blustery breeze fluttered flags from some of the 80-plus nations represented by the more than 3,600 graduates from the class of 2007. As the robed seniors marched into the Quadrangle, the skirl of bagpipes marked the suspended moment before they would officially depart a community of close friends to spread across the globe.

“Each graduating class seems to express the values and define the character for the entire student body. And you have been a class that seems to have valued most highly the fabric of community: local community, regional community, global community,” President Jim Wagner told the graduates. “Sure, you have stretched that fabric from time to time, but you have not wanted it to tear.

“Even when you expressed passionate disagreement and disrespect for ideas or actions, you still practiced respect for persons. This was true whether you were engaged in debate over divisive Middle East politics or you participated in equally passionate debate over who our Commencement speaker should be — heaven forbid that it should be the president,” Wagner said, poking fun at the fact that the seniors had protested his original plan to give the keynote address.

The keynote honor went to Paul Farmer, a physician and champion of health services for the poorest of the poor. Farmer founded a hospital in Haiti, and a Boston-based global research and advocacy foundation called Partners In Health.

“I’m hoping I was chosen [to speak] because of my interest in the University’s role in service beyond its walls,” Farmer said. “This University has promised to advance an agenda that links the development of new knowledge to the betterment of the world. And it can and it should: with the CDC, CARE, the Task Force for Child Survival and The Carter Center practically on the premises, the possibility for service, both local and global, is almost limitless. It is perhaps this proximity that has led Emory to ask important questions about the role of a research university in a world riven by violence and the persistent and complex plagues I deal with in my day job as a doctor in Haiti or Africa or Boston.”

Farmer told a story about a Haitian he called “Joe,” now 24, whom Farmer first met in 1991, shortly before Joe’s family set off on a perilous boat journey as refugees. Recently, Joe sent Farmer a donation of $250 to support his work in Haiti. The check was sent from Fallujah, Iraq, where Joe is serving in the U.S. Marines, although he has not yet achieved U.S. citizenship. Joe joined the Marines to help provide for his mother and to send his brother to a proper college.

Joe’s story illustrates the ideals of generosity and concern for others, and the value of connections, Farmer said. “As you head off to lives full of promise, remember that the connections you’ve made here at Emory need to be sustained and nourished.”

Wagner, who came to Emory four years ago with the Class of 2007, bid the seniors an emotional farewell. “The best community is one that makes room for the remarkable diversity of mankind,” he reminded them. “I will miss you and I wish you Godspeed. Congratulations to all.”

The Iraq war started when these seniors were freshmen, and the fighting goes on without an end in sight. Global warming moved to the forefront of the world’s consciousness. A hurricane smashed New Orleans and a shooter terrorized the Virginia Tech campus.

The Class of 2007, however, shares a deep bond of optimism as it sets forth. The unaffected smiles of seniors Elizabeth Sholtys and Robbie Brown said it all as they stood in their academic robes amid a phalanx of news cameras — two down-to-earth, confident young people who did not seek celebrity but have the grace to deal with it.

Sholtys had formed a connection with street children in India while doing volunteer work in that country. She was so inspired when she read Farmer’s biography, “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Could Cure the World,” during a seminar at Emory that she moved to the slums of Pune, India, to start a home for street children. And Brown was so inspired by Sholtys that he donated the $20,000 he received as the winner of Emory’s 2007 McMullan Award to her children’s charity.

Their world brims with possibilities.