Summer 2008: Emory’s 163rd Commencement

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‘Many Roads Lead to Your Dreams’

Commencement 2008

By Mary J. Loftus

On the blustery morning of May 12, Emory’s Class of 2008 gathered before family and friends on the Quadrangle to celebrate their achievements and mark a new era in their lives during the University’s 163rd Commencement. President Jim Wagner said the class—some 3,595 graduates strong—had left legacies of both the heart and the mind: reviving Wonderful Wednesdays, publishing a book about Emory lore and traditions, sustaining a flourishing of the arts, and helping to revive an ailing Grady Hospital. “The goodness of this community is here because you’ve invested yourself in it,” he said. “You’ve grown to love this place because you’ve helped to make it what it is.”

The Home Depot cofounder and philanthropist Bernie Marcus delivered the keynote address and received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Marcus, who announced that it was his seventy-ninth birthday, told graduates that he is a first-generation American who started life in a walk-up tenement in Newark, New Jersey. “My mother and father were Russian immigrants. They came to America with no money. They didn’t read, write, or speak English. They had nothing, but to them, that tenement was a paradise, a penthouse,” he said. “My mother believed that America was the golden land, and whatever you put your mind to, you could achieve.”

Initially, Marcus wanted to be a doctor, but couldn’t afford medical school. He attended pharmacy school but, after discovering that customer service and marketing was what he truly loved, he switched careers, ultimately becoming the cofounder of the world’s largest home-improvement retailer.

Through the Marcus Foundation, he supported the creation of the Georgia Aquarium, the Marcus Institute for brain disorders, the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, and programs at Emory and several other institutions.

“While you may be convinced there is only one way to fulfill a dream,” he told graduates, “you’re going to find that there are many roads that lead you to your dreams—and those dreams may find you when and where you least expect it.”

Other honorary degree recipients recognized during commencement were: mental health advocate and Regis College President Mary Jane England; writer Ernest Gaines, author of A Lesson Before Dying; and Harvard University biologist and conservationist E. O. Wilson.

J. Davidson “Dusty” Porter 85C, president of the Emory Alumni Association Board, welcomed graduates as Emory alumni. “You will bear this title for the rest of your lives . . . wherever you go, you will bring a little of Emory with you.”