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Emory Class Day Crossover features Kal Penn, actor and former White House staffer
Students holding candles at night

Students celebrate the traditional candlelit Crossover as they become alumni.

— Emory Photo/Video

Kal Penn — actor, writer, producer and former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement — has been named the keynote speaker for Emory’s 2023 Class Day Crossover.

Class Day Crossover is a multi-part event that celebrates students receiving bachelor’s degrees from Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Goizueta Business School, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and the Emory School of Medicine (Medical Imaging Program). This year’s event will be Thursday, May 4, at 6 p.m. in the Emory Student Center.

The celebration will include a senior reception, a program with remarks from Penn and Emory leaders plus senior awards, the candlelight crossover, a party on McDonough Field, and activities for alumni, staff, faculty and community members.

Kal Penn has been named the keynote speaker for Class Day Crossover, a celebration of the Class of 2023, happening May 4.

Photo provided by Kal Penn

Penn is best known for his starring roles in “Designated Survivor,” “House,” the “Harold & Kumar” franchise and “Sunnyside,” which he co-created for NBC. From 2009-11, Penn took a sabbatical from acting and served in the Obama/Biden administration as the president’s liaison to young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the arts community. He worked on a range of issues in these roles, including the Affordable Care Act, Pell Grants, arts and culture programs, the DREAM Act, rapid response to the 2010 BP Oil spill and 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden re-election campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities. That work focused on arts education and cultural diplomacy, including the first-ever U.S. government arts delegation to Cuba.

Penn currently stars in the animated Disney Junior series “Mira, Royal Detective” and recently guest hosted "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

“We are so excited for Kal Penn because of his impressive acting and political career, and we’re certain his perspective will resonate with students,” says Anna Rhoads, a senior studying finance who has been involved in planning Class Day.

“Kal Penn broke into Hollywood despite institutional barriers, said ‘no’ to roles that perpetuated stereotypes and made an admirable career switch into public service. I’m looking forward to the senior class coming together and feeling inspired by his life as we enter the next chapter of ours,” Rhoads says.

Each year’s Class Day speaker is chosen by students. Previous speakers include Scott Kelly, Chelsea Handler, Adam Richman, Kenneth Cole, Mia Farrow, Peyton Manning, Ben & Jerry, Bill Nye and Chipper Jones.

Class Day Crossover activities

In addition to remarks by Penn, the Class Day Program (open to undergraduate seniors) will include the presentation of four senior awards. The Boisfeuillet Jones Medals honor students for good citizenship, outstanding leadership, devoted service to Emory and the community, academic performance and potential to become a “change agent” in their chosen profession and society at large.

The Brit Katz Senior Appreciation Award is presented to an administrator or staff member selected by seniors for service as a role model and friend to the senior class, for participation in the Emory community beyond their professional duty and who is deemed worthy of special recognition.

The Knights of Emory Spirit Awards recognize two outstanding seniors who have made great contributions to the university and promote Emory spirit with passion and selflessness.

The Lightkeeper of Emory Award, given by the Order of Ammon, is bestowed upon a graduating senior unafraid to engage in divergent thought; motivated by an instinct to turn bold ideas into progress; and guided by an uncommon, radical empathy. Students named Lightkeepers have led efforts to foster a more inclusive Emory, leaving behind an enduring legacy without actively seeking recognition.

Another highlight of the event will be the Candlelight Crossover, a tradition that symbolizes undergraduate Emory students officially “crossing over” from student to alumni status. Graduating undergraduate students will cross together from the Emory Student Center to McDonough Field for a party in their honor with a DJ, free food, photobooths and more. Students will be surrounded by alumni and community members also lining the path to McDonough with candles in-hand. The student events will start at 6 p.m.

Call for alumni, faculty, staff and community members

Emory alumni, faculty, staff, and other Emory community members are invited to light the way and cheer on the graduates during the Candlelight Crossover. All community members are also invited to enjoy a complimentary reception with beer, wine, appetizers and Emory swag at 7 p.m. in the Student Center Plaza before lining up to welcome the students in the Crossover procession. Watch this video for a snapshot of what to expect.

Participation is strongly encouraged for all who work with and/or support Emory students; please register to attend.

Alumni are invited to return to campus to celebrate the newest graduates and reconnect with Emory all throughout Commencement weekend.

Commencement activities

Emory’s 178th Commencement events will take place May 5-8. Activist, writer and justice advocate Anthony Ray Hinton will serve as keynote speaker for the Emory University Commencement Ceremony, scheduled for Monday, May 8, at 8:30 a.m. on the Emory Quadrangle.

The Emory University Commencement Ceremony is a ticketed event for 2023 graduates and their guests. The ceremony will be livestreamed for the entire Emory community.

Learn more at Emory’s Commencement website.

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