Celebrating Oxford's Commencement

173rd Commencement | May 12, 2018

Graduates process to the Seney Hall lawn Graduates process to the Seney Hall lawn

Students celebrated the completion of their time at Oxford College on May 12 during traditional Commencement ceremonies on the Oxford quad.

Oxford College observed its 173rd Commencement exercises, celebrating more than 470 Oxford sophomores’ completion of their first two years of undergraduate study. As juniors, they will complete their degrees on Emory University’s Atlanta campus as students in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Goizueta School of Business, or Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

The ceremony opened with a bagpiper playing “The Emory and Old St. Andrews March” and wearing the colors of Emory University and the University of St. Andrews, Emory’s sister university in Scotland. Chief Marshal Eloise Carter, professor of biology, led the procession of students, faculty, and special guests. Ben Palmer, Oxford’s Student Government Association president, carried the official Emory mace.

In rows of chairs lined up across the quad, Oxford’s Class of 2018 listened to keynote speaker and Emory University Provost Dwight A. McBride.

McBride, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of African American Studies, is Emory’s executive vice president for academic affairs and serves as Emory’s chief academic officer. He also serves as a distinguished affiliated professor of English .

As a leading scholar of race and literary studies, McBride drew from the works of authors and poets during his message to graduates.

He quoted the great African American writer and intellectual Ralph Ellison. Speaking about the importance of education, Ellison once remarked, “Education is all a matter of building bridges.”

As Oxford graduates complete this part of their Emory educational journey, what lies ahead depends on the paths they take and the bridges they build, McBride said. Students will build bridges between cultures, forging new ways of seeing, saying, thinking, and knowing, he added.

Whether Oxford students end up serving in education, government, research, the corporate or non-profit world, the arts, or in any other profession, McBride looks forward to walking the bridges erected by their contributions.

When compared to more pragmatic professions and businesses, bridge-building may be viewed an an extravagance, McBride observed. He illustrated his point with an excerpt by Southern American poet Will Allen Drumgoole’s “The Bridge Builder.” The poem tells the story of an old man traveling a long and lonely journey.  He reaches a deep chasm. 

The man reaches the other side and begins to build a bridge to span the gap.  A fellow pilgrim suggests he’s wasting his time building a bridge for a path he’s already crossed.

The old man explains how a youth will follow the same path in the future: ‘Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.’

“The function of a liberal arts education is to give to students the tools they need to build bridges,” McBride said. These tools include critical analysis and reasoning, critical writing, research and experimentation, and human understanding and empathy.

“As you embark on new journeys, remember to build bridges for those coming behind you,” McBride told graduates. Those bridges can make previously unimagined journeys possible, he added.

“With the insights of a world-class education, let not the naysayers and short-sighted pilgrims along your roads keep you from building your bridges as you go,” he concluded, urging graduates to work toward change in their own lives and in the world.   

A traditional highlight of the day — the awarding of the Virgil Y.C. Eady Sophomore Service Award and the Emory Williams Teaching Award — followed the Commencement address.

The Eady Sophomore Service Award is one of the highest honors that Oxford bestows. The only student award given at Commencement, this honor has been presented for the last 49 years to the sophomore student who has given outstanding and selfless service to the Oxford College community.

Samah Zahra Meghjee, from Longwood, Fla., was the 2018 recipient. Dean of Campus Life Joe Moon presented the award to Meghjee, who participated as a First Year Council member, resident assistant, admission ambassador, Indian Cultural Exchange officer, Oxford Class Gift Committee member, and an actor/director with Theater Oxford. Calling her action-oriented, Moon characterized Meghjee as having “not only been a strong performer in the classroom, but a model of an ethically engaged, social justice leader on campus.” 

Along with her friend and fellow Oxford graduate Erin Oquindo, she jointly directed the Hearing Voices project. Hearing Voices was a multi-medium, multi-locational performance art gallery focused on mental health and mental illness on college campuses. Each of the five pieces in the gallery across campus were original pieces by Oxford students, ranging from monologues, large group scenes, movement pieces, and spoken word.

She co-created with last year’s Eady Service Award winner Jenna Cariker Ox17 a bi-weekly podcast called Bedtime Stores for Woke Children. The podcast teaches children how to navigate difficult life issues too often ignored in conventional children’s literature.

“The Eady Award represents more than a deep and broad involvement at Oxford,” Moon said. “It is awarded to one who leaves Oxford a better place; someone who contributes to the common good without seeking praise or recognition.”

Florian Pohl, associate professor of religion, was the recipient of the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award — Emory University’s highest award for excellence in teaching. Emory gives this award annually to faculty members in each college, graduate school, and professional school of the university. Ken Anderson, dean for academic affairs and professor of philosophy, presented the award to Pohl.

Anderson described Pohl as a voice of reason and a calming influence, especially when it comes to curriculum and innovations in teaching. Anderson noted how Pohl consistently develops new courses and redesigns existing ones. Drawing on the work he did over his recent Fulbright funded sabbatical in Indonesia, Pohl developed two new courses on Islam.

Pohl embraces curricular innovation, Anderson said. This past year, Pohl taught “American Islam Before and After 9/11” in the pilot program for Oxford’s Discovery Seminars.

He contributed to the teaching mission of Oxford by co-facilitating First-Year Seminars, working with students on independent research projects, and collaborating with colleagues on the Atlanta campus to maintain the Arabic Language Program.

“Students recognize that he cares about them personally and is deeply invested in their educational experience,” Anderson emphasized. Students call his classes stimulating, challenging, and informative. Outside the classroom, Pohl served as co-leader with Chaplain Lyn Pace for a Global Connections trip to Berlin and Oxford in honor of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.

Students and faculty alike recognize and value Pohl’s efforts on behalf of the Muslim community. “He brings Oxford students and Muslim community members together for dialogue,” Anderson said.

“He embodies the tolerance necessary to foster an intellectual community with the mission of creating, preserving, teaching, and applying knowledge in the service of humankind,” Anderson concluded.

Emory University President Claire E. Sterk conferred the degrees. Oxford Dean Douglas A. Hicks was joined by Dean of Emory College Michael Elliott.

Marching in procession with the Oxford graduates and faculty were members of the class of 1968. These newest members of the Corpus Cordis Aureum are alumni whose graduation year was 50 or more years ago.

The night before commencement, Oxford College held an interfaith baccalaureate service in historic Old Church, just north of the Oxford campus. Following the event, graduates and their families attended a picnic dinner in the dining hall with members of the Oxford faculty and staff.

The baccalaureate service is an Oxford tradition coordinated by Chaplain Lyn Pace. This interfaith celebration of song and prayer represents the many faith traditions of the student body.

Oxford celebrates our Class of 2018.

In the words of commencement speaker Provost Dwight A. McBride: “I have always said that one of the most important functions of a liberal arts education is to prepare students for citizenship and leadership in a variety of sectors of our ever-globalizing and connected world.”

Didn’t make it to Oxford’s Commencement ceremony? Oxford offered live-streaming of the ceremony to those who could not attend in person. The video has been archived, and is available now for viewing.