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Class of 2016 distinguished by commitment to service, community

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Four years ago, students in Emory College's Class of 2016 gathered on the Quad for the traditional class photo. On Monday, they were among 4,494 graduates receiving their degrees during the University's 171st Commencement. Emory Photo/Video

A theme of service — to campus, community and the world — was woven throughout Emory’s 171st Commencement ceremony, featuring a keynote address by William Foege, a renowned epidemiologist and former Emory public health professor who is credited with creating the global strategy to eradicate smallpox.

The Class of 2016 gathered on the Emory Quadrangle on Monday morning for the university-wide Commencement, which drew a crowd of about 15,000 and was steeped in time-honored traditions of pomp and pageantry, from colorful academic regalia to the spine-tingling skirl of bagpipes and the rumble of drums, which signaled the opening procession.

The Class of 2016 represents a diverse field of graduates, with 4,494 students from 49 states and 76 nations abroad, receiving a total of 4,585 degrees.

Among this year’s graduates, 58 percent are women and 42 percent are men, ranging in age from a 20-year-old bachelor’s degree candidate to a 77-year-old candidate for a master’s degree in religion and public life. Some 28 are veterans of military service.

“A class committed to caring"

As Emory’s graduate and undergraduate students advance to their next phase of life, they are joined this year by Emory President James W. Wagner, who presided over his last Commencement ceremony in that role.

Last year, Wagner announced plans to retire at the end of August. His successor is expected to be named this summer.

Reflecting upon 13 years of service at Emory, Wagner noted that it has been “a joy to experience the extraordinary nobility of this community, which demonstrates again and again that a university can have a soul.”

“Emory truly endeavors to be both great and good,” he said before Commencement. “That experience has changed me, and I will ‘graduate’ on May 9th with gratitude for my own education in this place.”

As Wagner considers the qualities that distinguish this year’s graduating class, “the phrase that comes to mind is ‘entrepreneurs of care,’” he said.

“It’s extraordinary to reflect on how many initiatives this class has launched to look after each other’s needs and those of communities beyond our campus,” Wagner said. “The list is long and impressive.”

“I think of Emory Campus Kitchens, which delivers extra food from our dining halls to Atlanta food shelters; or Emory Seeds for Knowledge, which helps educate children in Africa; or Freedom at Emory, which advocates for access to higher education for undocumented students; or TableTalk, which fosters conversation across barriers and differences," he continued.

The Class of 2016 “also has kept our attention focused on issues of justice — from their first year, when they helped create the Campus Life Compact, to this past year and the work leading to and from our Racial Justice Retreat,” Wagner said. “These students demonstrate that compassion, justice and critical intelligence don’t cancel each other out, but actually inform each other.”

Foege honored for smallpox eradication

During the ceremony, Wagner also recognized the humanitarian service and lifetime achievements of William Foege, a physician and epidemiologist who received the Emory President’s Medal, one of the two highest honors granted by the University.

“Bill Foege combines greatness of heart with a first-rate mind and a commitment to improve the well-being of humanity,” Wagner said.

Driven by an interest in health since childhood — he was inspired both by the life of Albert Schweitzer and the missionary work of an uncle in New Guinea — Foege served as an epidemiology intelligence officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, eventually signing on with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help eradicate smallpox in Nigeria.

Recognizing that the virus would likely be concentrated in crowded settings, Foege strived to inoculate every person he could find, effectively creating a “human shield” against the spread of the virus — a strategy that was later adopted globally, eventually leading to eradication of the disease.

Foege was appointed director of the CDC in 1977. In 1984, he and several colleagues formed the Task Force for Child Survival, a working group for the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and the Rockefeller Foundation. The task force, headquartered in nearby Decatur, was renamed the Task Force for Global Health and is affiliated with Emory.

Winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and recipient of an honorary degree from Emory in 1986, Foege previously served on the faculty of Emory, where he was the Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health at the Rollins School of Public Health.

He also served as executive director and fellow for health policy at The Carter Center and as a senior medical adviser for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Honorary degree recipients

Emory also conferred three honorary degrees at the Commencement ceremony:

  • Raymond Danowski, an American-born fine arts dealer who collected more than 75,000 rare books, posters, periodicals and recordings over several decades, compiling a nearly complete record of all published English-language poetry in the 20th century as well as valuable earlier materials. These materials now reside in Emory's Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
  • Temple Grandin, a noted researcher in the field of animal science and the humane handling of livestock and a leading advocate for the autism community who has shared her own life story through speaking engagements, books and the film "Temple Grandin."
  • Amartya Sen, awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998 in recognition of his groundbreaking research into welfare economics and how economic policies affect nations and communities.

 Editor's note: Preliminary numbers for the Class of 2016 were accurate as of May 9, 2016.

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