Summer 2010: Features

Arnold Schwarzenegger in the opening procession.

Bryan Meltz

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The Commencenator

California Governor Schwarzenegger ‘pumps up’ grads

Full Coverage of Commencement 2010

For full coverage of Commencement 2010, including video interviews with the student award winners, please visit Emory's official site.

By Mary J. Loftus

Three black SUVs pull across the bridge onto Kilgo Circle, stopping in front of the Michael C. Carlos Museum. The crowd—families and a smattering of late graduates—is held back by police while a group of men in suits emerges from the cars.

Even from the back, it’s evident that one of the men is larger, broader, and a shade taller than the rest.

“That’s him,” someone in the crowd murmurs. “The Terminator.”

In that moment, it seems as if Emory’s 165th Commencement, held May 10, might bring excitement beyond the usual pomp and circumstance. Regenerating robots, perhaps, or cyborg assassins. Square-jawed clones or extraterrestrial warriors.

“Interesting choice of speaker,” said fourteen-year-old Marcus Shephard, whose older sister, Lindsay, was graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

Fifteen-year-old Austin Bronstein, whose sister Courtney was lining up to process across the Quad, says he caught an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie a while back. “He’s pretty awesome and cool,” he said. “But I might have liked Michelle Obama better.” Ah, but could the First Lady protect us from the Predator?

Then the Atlanta Pipe Band began to play, the platform party took their places, a brief cheer went up as Governor Schwarzenegger took the stage, and reality descended: this morning was not about science fiction scenarios or action heroes, but a very real adventure soon to be experienced by more than 3,900 Emory graduates: Life After College.

President James Wagner congratulated the Class of 2010, saying they embodied the “spirit of bigness,” and understood the value of belonging to something larger than oneself.

This was proven, he said, when “on your watch” Emory was selected as one of three universities to receive the Presidential Award for General Community Serviice in 2008—the highest national honor a university can receive for its commitment to volunteering and civil engagement. “Society,” Wagner told the graduates, “needs your combination of intellectual power and community wisdom.”

When Schwarzenegger, who became a U.S. citizen in 1983 and is in his second term as governor of the nation’s most populous state, took the stage to deliver the keynote address, his familiar Austrian accent was met with lighthearted laughter from the crowd.

“I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend,” he joked. “But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me.”

He then delivered his trademark cinematic lines to the crowd, among them: “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby.”

“So now that we have that out of the way . . . I really want to talk to you about my rules for success,” said the former Mr. Universe, who has starred in more than thirty movies. “[These] are key principles that have brought me incredible success in several careers, from bodybuilding to acting and from public service to politics: Work like hell, trust yourself, break some rules, don’t be afraid to fail, ignore the naysayers, and stay hungry.”

Despite being told that he would never make it in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger said, he’s now one of the highest-paid actors in the world. “On Terminator, the director said . . . ‘I couldn’t imagine the line I’ll be back with a normal American accent.’ So all of those things that they said were liabilities became assets.

“This is why I tell you, anything and everything can be done if you can visualize it and if you believe in yourself.”

Schwarzenegger congratulated Emory on its work with the Georgia Special Olympics, whose summer games are held on the campus. “What a great accomplishment—you have been doing this at this University for two decades,” he said. “I want to thank you on behalf of my mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics more than forty years ago. . . . She is a shining example of the chain reaction that begins simply by one person taking that simple step forward.”

He urged graduates to “use your power and potential and make this nation, and this world, a better place. It worked for this immigrant who came over here to this country with twenty dollars in his pocket, and I guarantee it will work for you, too.”