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'Big Red' lectern debuts

The new lectern, known informally as Big Red, represents the face of Emory.

So long "Big Blue." You've been replaced by a younger, swankier model — one that doesn't crumble underneath 30 layers of paint or inspire hernia concerns among Campus Services staff.

And guess what? It's not even blue.

To celebrate Emory's 175th anniversary, the presidential lectern known informally as "Big Red" received a fitting debut at the Dec. 7 convocation ceremony. Standing a proud four feet tall, the cherry wood speaker's stand received a nod from President Jim Wagner who remarked: "We can look forward to using this elegant and high tech-laden lectern for years to come."

As the official University lectern, Big Red will travel two to three dozen times a year, making an appearance at Commencement and at other major events convened by Wagner or the Board of Trustees. A slenderized version, dubbed Little Red, is expected to be finished by early next year for use at smaller events.

During the convocation, the University also unveiled a refurbished table to hold Emory's revered scepter-like mace — the table and lecterns were made possible by a private donation — along with a new Emory flag.

Just as the White House lectern conveys a certain gravitas, Big Red represents the face of Emory.

"We wanted to build a piece of furniture that represents permanence and institutional strength," says Michael Kloss, executive director of the Office of University Events.

A lectern for the 21st century 

Back in February, Kloss was attending a University fundraising event. As sunlight illuminated Big Blue, Kloss was horrified to observe peeling tape on the front of the lectern, leftover from another event's ill-advised logo placement. Blocking the view of the audience, he swiftly removed it.

That night, he resolved to design a lectern befitting Emory's stature as a world-class institution, making it the perfect melding of form and function. No longer would the Emory name and shield be velcroed on a peacock-blue box. Instead, the new piece would play up the University's golden side, with an enlarged shield and permanently-affixed Emory letters blazing with automotive-grade paint.

The top of the lectern would be adorned with genuine slabs of Tate, Ga. marble — remnants from building projects on the Quad. Above them, two carved scrolls would provide a resting place for fidgety hands, borrowing a detail from Big Blue. Elegant gold protrusions, extending from the main body, would mimic the shape of the trumpet on the Emory shield. And it would travel in style, tucked into a custom-made case on wheels.    

Over the summer, Kloss provided Emory's Senior Carpenter Jack Scheu with renderings of his design.

Scheu set about assembling it, creating nooks for all the gadgets and lights, fashioning three separate shelves and a pullout step for speakers wanting a bit of a lift.

An iPad 2 was set flush against the top, allowing Kloss to send speakers inconspicuous notes about timing or program changes. Big Blue, by contrast, was riddled with holes from temporary attachments, including a microphone hookup that would buzz and hum without warning.  

"This has been my most challenging project," says Scheu, a 27-year Emory veteran. "But it's also the most rewarding," he continues. "When I'm sitting in a nursing home, I'm going to point to that lectern on TV and say, 'I did that.'"

As for Big Blue and its Little Blue counterpart, both will remain in circulation, albeit for smaller events hosted by campus departments and student groups.

Emory's own carpenters built Big Blue "like a tank" more than three decades ago, notes Scheu. Over time, it was repainted from white to blue to be more video-friendly. Weighing in at more than 100 pounds, the lectern led a full life, providing a platform for every Commencement speaker during that period, including then-Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mikhail Gorbachev and His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.

Campus leaders fully expect Big Red to have a similar life span.

"Inevitably, when something major is happening on campus or history is being made, it's probably going to be from behind that lectern," notes Kloss.

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