Celebrating Emory's Class of 2024: The 179th Commencement

A close up of the podium at Emory's Commencement


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bagpipers play at the start of Commencement
Students in caps and gowns say the Pledge of Allegiance
Alumni who graduated from Emory 50+ years ago process in gold robes

Accomplishment, joy and abundant gratitude took center stage as thousands of Emory graduates and their loved ones came together May 10-13 to mark the university’s 179th Commencement.

Proud graduates celebrated their achievements at diploma ceremonies for each of the university’s nine schools and multiple degree programs, while undergraduates in the Class of 2024 gathered on Monday morning, May 13, for the university ceremony.

From the moment families and friends began filing into their seats in the Gas South Arena until the final chorus of the alma mater, with blue and gold streamers drifting down upon the newest group of Emory alumni, the ceremony was a celebration of the remarkable achievements and perseverance of the Class of 2024.

Spirited gathering music from the Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet welcomed students and their families. As graduates in caps and gowns processed in from the four corners of the arena, the boom of a bass drum and the iconic skirl of bagpipes from the Atlanta Pipe Band silenced the crowd.

With that, Emory University Commencement began.

Professor Robert Franklin speaks at the Commencement podium

Professor Robert Franklin: "Strive to be timeless."

Professor Robert Franklin: "Strive to be timeless."

Robert Franklin, the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at the Candler School of Theology, welcomed attendees with an acknowledgment of the change of venue for this year’s events.

“All of you have demonstrated the wisdom of a little proverb that says, ‘Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape,’” Franklin said.   

Offering the first of many first pieces of advice graduates would receive throughout the day, he encouraged each to “strive to be timeless — in your ambitions, in your actions, in your treatment of others.”

Franklin reflected on the unique challenges faced by this undergraduate class, who graduated high school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the courage with which they’ve faced it all.

“When the history books are written, those headlines will tell only a part of the story, but they will not capture the depth of your resilience, your humanity, your thoughtfulness, your countless daily efforts to lift others up and, even when it’s painful, to hear the perspectives of others, especially those with whom you disagree,” said Franklin.

“But that is precisely what it takes to be timeless, to tap into the eternal essence of what it means to share a community and, indeed, a planet, to give of yourselves in those small, mundane moments, so that you and others can excel, thrive, heal and understand.”

With the official conferral of degrees, Emory welcomed 5,145 new alumni across the university’s nine schools, who earned a total of 5,260 degrees and hailed from 55 U.S. states and territories along with 58 other nations.

Emory President Gregory L. Fenves encouraged graduates to take a moment and bask in the glow of their achievements, surrounded by those they love the most.

“Enjoy this moment of accomplishment. In the years ahead, you will strive to achieve new goals. But right now, take one more look around at your friends and your family. Appreciate this experience,” Fenves said. “You have reached a milestone in your life. You did this. You made it happen. Savor it, enjoy it, celebrate it.”

Students in caps and gowns fill the arena
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Four students sing the alma mater on stage
A student in a black gown hugs an Emory alum in a gold gown
Students sit on the front row at Commencement


A blue background with the Emory seal


Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice:
“Welcome to your first day in the School of Life.”

A blue background with the Emory seal

Physician-scientist and health equity advocate Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of the Morehouse School of Medicine, delivered the keynote address for the Class of 2024.

A renowned infertility specialist and researcher, she began her remarks by reflecting on her experience as a resident at the Emory School of Medicine, where she trained at both Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital — two facilities with quite different patient populations. Seeing her professor treat patients at both hospitals with the same expertise and respect helped set the foundation for her commitment to health equity.

Speaking to students who mostly began their Emory careers in fall 2020, Montgomery Rice noted this was the first educational milestone many were able to celebrate in person. And while their time as Emory students ended that morning, she explained, their time in the “school of life” was just beginning.

“Getting here is a great accomplishment. But having traveled this road, I can only imagine that for some of you, it wasn’t easy. Maybe you had to work two or three jobs, struggle to get passing grades or change directions when you figured out the career path you thought you wanted no longer fit for your future,” she said.

It’s a road Montgomery Rice knows well. Pursuing a cooperative undergraduate education, she worked with Proctor and Gamble and was offered a job at the end of her experience.

“The realization of life as a chemical engineer forced me to assess if my personal interests really aligned closely with science or with people,” she said. “I realized you could actually have both and I found my true passion in medicine.”

In other words, change is possible.

Montgomery Rice went on to detail four guideposts she hopes graduates will find helpful as they move into the “school of life”:

First, listen to learn. Rather than listening to respond, use listening to engage with ideas. “It’s not passive,” she said, “but a deliberate choice to be fully present and immerse ourselves in the perspectives of others without judgment. It’s inclusive.”

Second, learn to include. “I implore each of us to embrace the values of diversity and inclusion and make every effort to have constructive conversations, no matter the situation. The path forward begins with listening and inclusion.” Montgomery Rice also spoke to the importance of broadening exposure to a wide range of people, which will lead to more meaningful experiences in the future.

Third, include to grow. “The wider the circle you have, the more opportunities you have to grow,” she said. “You’re not just growing for yourself. You’re growing for yourself and everyone else.” That means including others, but it also means saying “yes” when others work to include you.

Finally, grow to impact. Montgomery Rice was not interested in obstetrics when she began and instead had her sights set on reproductive endocrinology and infertility. To get there, she had to complete an OB/GYN residency. She expected to be “checking the box” but instead grew curious about the science of ovulation and connected the dots of how research could positively impact women — particularly women of color. “I’ve never lost sight of the fact that research, technology, and who we train and how we train them, have an impact.”

On this “first day in the school of life,” she also left students with a homework assignment: to hug the people in their support systems and share how grateful they are. After all, nobody got here alone.

“Many of you will do great things, but to graduate from the school of life with a cum laude degree, all you have to do is one thing,” Montgomery Rice said. “That is to do the best you can with what you have. And remember to listen, learn, include and grow.

“The world may not be ready for you, but I am confident you are ready for the world.”

Before speaking, Montgomery Rice was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. During the ceremony, Emory also awarded honorary degrees to acclaimed violinist Robert McDuffie and Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.


Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of the Morehouse School of Medicine, was the keynote speaker for Emory's 179th Commencement.
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Violinist Robert McDuffie receiving an honorary degree

Violinist Robert McDuffie

Violinist Robert McDuffie

A photo of the stage as degrees are conferred
Dr. Victor Dzau receives an honorary degree

Dr. Victor Dzau

Dr. Victor Dzau


A blue background with the Emory seal
An infographic features stats on the Class of 2024: 5,145 total grads from 55 U.S. states and territories and 58 nations. 3.66 average GPA for Emory College grads. 71% of all grads have GPA over 3.5. Youngest grad is 20. Oldest grad is 77. 63% of grads are female and 37% are male. 5,260 total degrees including 74 dual degrees. 2471 undergrad degrees. 1872 master's degrees. 834 doctoral degrees (research and professional). 83 certificates.


Celebrating today, with big plans for tomorrow

A blue background with the Emory seal
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A group of friends hold up another student, who is laughing
A student wearing a medal enters the arena
A graduate in a gown and white "student athlete" sash

While each year’s graduates deserve celebration, Commencement for the undergraduate Class of 2024 held special meaning for students and their families.

“So many students in this class were born around 9/11 and then had no prom or graduation because COVID-19 changed their senior year,” said Kim Ajy of Johns Creek, Georgia. Her son Samir Ajy — an Oxford College continuee — graduated from Emory College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in political science and plans to take a gap year while studying for the law school admission exam. “This is the first opportunity for them to have a true graduation celebration,” she said. “I’m so glad we can celebrate them now.”

The celebrations weren’t confined to undergraduate ceremonies, however. Case in point: Sydney McCabe, who graduated first in her Emory Law class with a JD in transactional law, had a 22-member cheering section on hand, ranging from a 14-month-old nephew to her 90-year-old grandmother.

And Ijeoma Nwaobia traveled from Botswana to see her daughter, Precious Adanna Nwaobia, graduate from Rollins School of Public Health with a focus in behavioral, social and health education sciences. Her interests in program evaluation and health equity are no surprise to her brother George, who says concern for the welfare of others is what drew Precious to the field of public health. “I am in awe of the energy and passion she demonstrates,” he said.

Passion is also a hallmark of Kenneth Williams from Lawrenceville, Georgia, who earned his MD from Emory School of Medicine and will begin his anesthesia residency in Dallas, Texas, next month. “He’s very hard working and very passionate about his future profession,” said his mother, Jaicy Williams. “He’s known he wanted to go into medicine since he was in elementary school.”

students with stoles smile during the ceremony

For other students, their Emory experience took them down a different path than what they originally anticipated — and they realized that was okay.

First-generation student Paul Cruz Jr. began Emory’s nursing program believing his main interest was the emergency room, but he was soon won over by young patients. His next step will be a nursing residency at Texas Children’s Pediatrics in his hometown of Houston, Texas. He got so much from the program that his mom, Angie Barajas, expects him to return to Emory when he’s ready to pursue his nurse practitioner degree.

Sometimes being at Emory does more than open a student’s eyes to their career path. It can open their door to the world.

Cody Seitz, who attended Emory as a Questbridge Scholar, hails from Anchorage, Alaska. He studied marketing and international business through Goizueta Business School and also minored in Japanese. During his time at Emory, he did online research with the University of Tokyo, working with the engineering department to create artificial intelligence that can analyze the speech of non-native English speakers. He will return to Tokyo after graduation and plans to teach for a few years before pursuing graduate studies there.

Nick Weaver of Havana, Illinois, didn’t study abroad while working on his master’s in public health, but he wants his work to have a worldwide impact. He’ll do exactly that when he begins his role as an associate scientist with the American Cancer Society.

“My undergraduate degree is in molecular biology, which taught me the mechanics of disease in the cell,” he said. “Studying genetics and molecular epidemiology at Rollins helps take that to the population level. Now I’m equipped with the data skills to draw conclusions about population health. I didn’t have that bridge beforehand to understand why things are like they are.”

A search for deeper connections and understanding contributed to Kendra Plating choosing Candler School of Theology for her doctor of ministry studies.

“I knew that just about every denomination would be represented here, and I wanted those interdenominational conversations,” she said. “What I’ve appreciated most is having time with my Black colleagues. Just hearing their theological voices has been so enriching and educational for me. The diversity was the reason I chose Candler, and it has taught me so much.”

The community Plating found during her studies is echoed as an Emory highlight for many graduates.

“It has been really nice to have that sisterhood and be among like-minded college women,” Goizueta graduate Makari Patterson said of her sorority membership. “The organization is very oriented in community service. Joining them has probably been the highlight of my college career.” She’ll return home to Chicago with a degree in marketing that focuses on arts management and a minor in African American studies.

Colorado native Katherine Lindquist, who earned her PhD in anthropology from Laney Graduate School, has fond memories of singing karaoke with her cohort, where the group would “dedicate our favorite songs to different social theorists.” Her go-to karaoke artist? ABBA, easily. Though, the social theorist dedication can change on a whim.

Emory College graduates Rishika Nahata, Noah Marchuck and Kendall Parsons — whose studies encompassed neuroscience and behavioral biology, psychology, Spanish and more — learned to deeply value their time together on campus, from planned activities to casual moments.

“My favorite memory is just watching the sunset with friends,” said Parsons, who came to Emory from Fort Mills, South Carolina. “The view from the ledge by Kaldi’s in the Emory Student Center is really pretty.”

Their times of watching sunsets together from the Emory Student Center have ended, but the Class of 2024 is ready for its next adventure. No matter what they studied or where they may go from here, the sentiment on nursing graduate Shay Gutowski’s mortarboard encapsulates how each student’s hard work at Emory will now pay off: “All this labor and finally a delivery.”

blue and gold streamers drift down on graduates in caps and gowns