2012 graduates step into a world of change, challenges

May 8, 2012

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The Class of 2012, which convenes for Commencement exercises on Monday, May 14, began their Emory experience amid one of the nation's starkest economic downturns. They graduate into a much different world. Emory Photo/Video.

A theme of transformation is the common thread within Emory's 167th Commencement ceremony this year. 

From an improving job outlook for new graduates to the keynote speaker's inspiring story of personal and professional transformation and a "changing of the guard" for a long-standing ceremonial tradition, change is in the air.

The Class of 2012, which convenes for Commencement exercises on Monday, May 14, began their Emory experience amid one of the nation's starkest economic downturns. They graduate into a much different world.

Not only have the new graduates witnessed hopeful transformations within the U.S. economy during their time at Emory, they've seen improvements in the overall marketplace for job-seeking seniors.

"This year's graduates have experienced an economic climate change since they began at Emory, and they commence into a world full of challenges," observes President James Wagner.

"But Emory has prepared them well, and we can take heart from their eagerness and capacity to meet those challenges," Wagner adds.

The ceremony for about 3,818 graduates will attract around 15,000 people to the Quadrangle to witness the pageantry of an academic tradition rich in symbolism and regalia, with roots stretching back to medieval times.

This year's keynote speaker will be acclaimed neurosurgeon and humanitarian Benjamin Carson, a professor of neurosurgery, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Carson, who has directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center for more than 25 years, won international attention in 1987 for the first and only successful separation of craniopagus twins joined at the back of the head.

Known for changing lives through his surgical skill and support of scholarship, Carson is also noted for overcoming his own troubled youth growing up in Detroit to become a gifted, pioneering neurosurgeon.

Commencement speaker Carson will also receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, along with four other individuals distinguished by their scholarship, public service or profession who will be recognized with honorary degrees during the ceremony.

According to tradition, the ceremony begins precisely at 8 a.m., as the stirring sound of bagpipes and drums from the Atlanta Pipe Band herald the procession that brings faculty, graduates and dignitaries onto the Quad.

Leading the procession for the last time will be chief marshal Larry Taulbee, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, who will retire later this year.

Taulbee, who has served as a faculty marshal, deputy university marshal and chief marshal, says he will miss the rituals and regalia, as well as the meaning behind Emory's Commencement ceremony.

 "The day itself is one of the most important events in the life of the university and a celebration of what we're all about," Taulbee says.

Replacing him will be Bobbi Patterson, professor of pedagogy in the Department of Religion and current chief marshal for Emory College of Arts and Sciences. Patterson is the first woman in Emory history to step into the role, which she will fill for the next three years, an opportunity that she embraces.

"For me, this day is about a recommitment — a time for us all to come together to remember the deepest commitments that draw us to this place," Patterson says. "I see it as an opportunity to look toward the future while standing in this beautiful capsule that we call the present."

For detailed information for graduates and guests, including inclement weather information for each school's ceremony, visit www.emory.edu/commencement.