A.J.’s Rejected Commencement Speech

This is my rejected commencement speech. It is about what it means to be an Emory student. It is called, “Bulldozing the Past: A Swan Song for the DUC.”

Too often seniors attempt to classify Emory students in generalization — all of which fail. Emory is too diverse for broad, sweeping generalizations. If I were naive enough to offer my own generalization, one that is not explicitly racial, religious or classist, I would say that Emory students are resume builders and fanatically studious, but we have fun parties. But even this is wrong. It ignores the international students. It ignores the conclave of humanities students who “major in life.” In fact, the only real way to generalize Emory students, and capture them all, is to say that we all went to Emory. The only truly unifying characteristic of Emory students is that we studied in these buildings. These buildings, then, are the only thing that have relevance to every Emory student.

Of course, to discuss Emory students is to discuss Emory’s culture and traditions. One cannot exist without the other. Emory, as an institution, bulldozed buildings and traditions in a single-minded race to the top of the charts. We cut the real Wonderful Wednesday, not just because we changed from a quarter to semester calendar but also because a day off in the middle of the week is not befitting of a top institution on the rise. Pushball, a hallowed tradition, opened the door to injury lawsuits. It had to go. Freshman caps from long ago constituted hazing and had no place once women entered our good ol’ boy’s club. There is a long list of traditions that fell by the wayside or were pushed off a cliff and made to look like an accident. Besides Dooley’s Week, which is a fairly new tradition relative to the age of our university, we don’t have any. We cut them all.

In fact, the only tradition Emory really has is a proud tradition of cutting.

In light of this tradition, I present a cautionary tale. Once in Emory’s history, it failed to bulldoze the past and uphold our hallowed custom of cutting. The University did not demolish Alumni Memorial Hall to make room for a new student center. Emory yielded to pressure to keep that beautiful building, erecting the new center around it. The result is the DUC, perhaps the greatest architectural failure on campus.

Choosing to build around the old building, enshrining it, ruined the concepts that were going to make the DUC functional and beautiful. The amphitheater seating, already a horrid and confusing choice, makes the “Coke Commons” a cavern. It defeats the purpose of the skylights. The light, airy feeling provided by the high ceiling is lost. The beautiful glass dome does not illuminate the bookstore or the dining hall food court. The bookstore was too small. The whole building is an exercise in wasted or misused space.

Enshrining the past, instead of bulldozing it, ruined the thing we tried to save. Alumni Memorial Hall is a exquisite building exterior, but keeping it ruined both the new DUC and made the old building so much uglier. It would have been better to bulldoze Alumni Memorial because its present state is worse than being demolished.

Like our university, the greatest danger to students of my generation, besides the job market, is premature nostalgia. This danger goes beyond the cultural obsession with the ’90s. It is largely the product of Facebook and the access to all those pictures of “good times.” College will take on a rosy hue once we meet the challenges, monotony and failures of the real world. Emory students, who are accustomed to success and achievement and suckled on the ideology of “positive reinforcement,” are most prone to the dangers of premature nostalgia. Cushy memories will soften the harsh blow of career stagnation and romantic failure.

The best thing you can do, then, is remain true to the Emory tradition and bulldoze the past. Commencement may be the beginning of something new, but it is also an end. We must take this time to remember that everything we have ever loved or enjoyed about Emory is gone forever, and we can never make new memories like the ones we have. The worst thing we can do is build a DUC because we are too afraid to bulldoze what is beautiful and comforting about our memories. If you try to build your new life around these days, these memories, you will create something new that, by accommodating the past, is worse than if you had just let go.

Emory bulldozed because it strove to reach the top. So must we all. Emory students, like the school that houses us, are, at our best, relentless strivers. We strive for the best. The true Emory student strives for prestige at the expense of all else. That is not all of us, but that is the best of us. The truest Emory students among us will cut anything that keeps him or her from the top, just like our University.

We are Emory. We cut. We bulldoze. We strive.

I dedicate this final column to College Dean Robin Forman. They made of you a sacrificial lamb. Your vision is clear. I admire and respect you and your judgment. History will vindicate you.

I love and cherish my parents. Thank you, Mother and Father. Thank you for everything.

— By A.J. Artis

Photo by Jenna Kingsley

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