The Emory Alumni Association (EAA) awarded its highest honor to Dictionary of American Regional English Editor Joan Houston Hall (’71G, ’76PhD) and Campaign Emory Chairman Walter M. Deriso (’68C) Tuesday.

The Emory Medal recognizes alumni who have displayed tremendous service to Emory or the public in their communities or to somebody who has become distinguished through business, the arts or other professions, according to EAA Senior Director Leslie Wingate.

“It’s really the top echelon of Emory alumni recognition,” Wingate said of the medal, which has been around since 1946. “Many consider the honorary doctorate to be the University’s highest honor, but specifically for alumni, the Emory Medal is the highest.”

Within the EAA, according to Wingate, a Nomination and Leadership Committee selected Hall and Deriso after reviewing a group of as many as 25 externally nominated alumni.

Hall, who earned her Masters in English from the Laney Graduate School in 1971 and her Ph.D. in English in 1976, called the Tuesday ceremony “wonderful” and “elaborate.”

“The tribute by [University President James W. Wagner] was lovely, and the videos made on our lives were very fun,” Hall said, referring to brief biographical videos screened at the ceremony.

Hall received the Emory Medal following her recent publication of the sixth volume of the “Dictionary of American Regional English,” or “DARE,” a 50-year project that has already become the recognized authority on the American English language, according to DARE’s website.

Between 1965 and 1970, DARE field workers traveled to communities throughout the U.S. equipped with 1,800-question surveys on local words for food, weather, family and other aspects of daily life, according to Hall.

These “folk words” – or words people might call their grandparents, for example, like “mema” and “papa,” or “nana” and “pops” – cannot be found in country-wide dictionaries, Hall said.
The alumna, who began working at DARE in 1975, said she hopes to update the volumes on a regular basis using a pilot online survey.

“A lot changes in 50 years,” she said. “Many people think that because of the media, language is becoming homogenized, but I don’t think that’s true.”

Deriso, who graduated from the College in 1968 and earned his J.D. from the Emory Law School in 1972, helped initiate the fundraising program Campaign Emory at the end of 2005.
He then led the program through its 2012 conclusion with a fundraising total of $1.69 billion from more than 140,000 donors.

Deriso, the first-ever Student Government Association president and a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, described the initial fundraising efforts for Campaign Emory as “very difficult and challenging” because of the economic downturn after the campaign’s 2008 public announcement.

“It was a very challenging time for all of us [on the Board of Trustees],” he said. “But the campaign exceeded my expectations – we had a lot of widespread help.”

Deriso said he “was in awe” upon receiving a letter from Wagner asking whether or not he would accept the Emory Medal a couple of months earlier.

“The ceremony was just wonderful,” he said. “A big honor for me was sharing the podium with Ms. Hall.”

Wingate called the pair a couple of “perfect selections,” in regard to the timeliness of the award.

“Campaign Emory just ended; Hall just completed this 50-year project – the timing was perfect,” Wingate said.

She added that anybody can submit alumni nominees, of which at least 200 have been awarded in the past 67 years.

– By Lydia O’Neal