Members of Emory University’s Class of 2024 gathered at the Gas South Arena in Duluth, Ga. for Emory’s 179th Commencement ceremony on May 13. The ceremony recognized undergraduate bachelor’s degree candidates from the Emory College of Arts and Sciences (ECAS), Goizueta Business School, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and the Emory School of Medicine. Graduate degree candidates watched the ceremony via webcast.

Unlike previous years, the University did not hold the 179th Commencement ceremony on the Atlanta campus’ Quadrangle. Emory moved this year’s event due to safety concerns, according to an email University President Gregory Fenves sent to students on May 6. Fenves did not specify what the safety concerns were. The change came as various pro-Palestinian groups held on-campus protests since April 25, when law enforcement officers removed an encampment from the Quad and arrested 28 protestors.

Emory College of Arts and Sciences Dean Barbara Krauthamer addressed the audience during Emory University’s 179th Commencement. (Madi Olivier/Editor-in-Chief)

Candler School of Theology James T. and Berta R. Laney Chair in Moral Leadership Robert Franklin welcomed graduates, family, alumni, faculty and staff to the commencement ceremony. He thanked the audience for their flexibility in this year’s changed commencement plans before University Chaplain and Dean of Religious Life Rev. Gregory McGonigle invited the audience to join him in prayer.

“May their education not only be a source of personal success, but also a catalyst for positive change in our world,” McGonigle said. “May they use their knowledge and skills to serve others, to foster understanding and compassion and to contribute to the good of our shared humanity.”

Fenves spoke next, with some audience members booing loudly to interrupt his speech. Last week, a plurality of Emory undergraduate students voted that they had no confidence in Fenves.

Many students wore keffiyehs and held Palestinian flags throughout commencement. During the ECAS diploma ceremony later that morning, some graduates handed ECAS Dean Barbara Krauthamer Palestinian flags as they received their diploma. Emory paused their live streamed video of the ceremony three times when students stood on the commencement stage, calling for a “Free Palestine” while holding up Palestinian flags or keffiyehs.

The Emory Divest Coalition condemned Emory’s decision to cut the video in an Instagram post, writing that the University was “silencing student voices.”

“Unfortunately for Emory, we will not stop, we will not rest, until they disclose, divest, and disassociate,” the group wrote.

Morehouse School of Medicine (Ga.) President and CEO Valerie Montgomery Rice (90MR, 91MR), who was the commencement keynote speaker, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for her philanthropy and advocacy in the medical field.

In her keynote address, Rice emphasized how special this graduation is for the Class of 2024, as many of the degree candidates were unable to attend their high school graduations in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the face of the pandemic, you persevere, and I want to extend my warmest congratulations to you and your families, your support systems that have helped you in any fashion,” Rice said.

Rice then shared four guiding principles — listen to learn, learn to include, include to grow and grow to impact — with the graduates on their “first day in the school of life.” She encouraged graduates to listen with the goal of understanding, not the intent to reply.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve witnessed a backlash on the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly in academic environments,” Rice said. “As we’ve seen on college campuses in recent weeks, this is how we end up sometimes refusing to listen to each other, resulting in screaming at one another.”

Rice added that “the path forward” is to listen and promote inclusion in conversations with those who may disagree with you.

Several other people also received awards and honorary degrees during the ceremony.

Provost and Executive Vice President Ravi Bellamkonda presented former Student Government Association President Khegan Meyers (24B) and Alan Amedi (24M) with the Marion Luther Brittain Award, which is awarded to one undergraduate and one graduate student each year who have “dedicated themselves to serving others without expectation of reward or recognition.”

Bellamokona also bestowed Oxford College Senior Associate Dean for Teaching, Scholarship and Strategic Initiatives Molly McGehee (03G, 07G) with the Exemplary Teacher of the Year Award for her work to “enhance both student and faculty flourishing.” He then presented the Thomas Jefferson Award to Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics Executive Director Lobsang Tenzin Negi (99G), who Bellamkonda said has demonstrated “intelligence, strategic thinking and boundless energy” in his leadership.

Emory School of Medicine Dean Sandra Wong awarded National Academy of Medicine President Victor Dzau with an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his “extraordinary contributions” to the field of cardiovascular medicine as a physician-scientist. Fenves presented violinist Robert McDuffie with an honorary Doctor of Music degree and praised his “groundbreaking” performances that “inspire musical freedom.”

Emory Alumni Board President Elizabeth Halkos (01B) congratulated and welcomed the graduates to the ranks of alumni.

“We look forward to witnessing the leadership you will provide in the communities of your choice,” Halkos said. “Wherever you go, you will always be a part of the Emory community and will take a little of Emory with you.”

Fenves closed out the ceremony by congratulating the graduates of the Class of 2024 in their “moment of accomplishment.”

“In the years ahead you will strive to achieve new goals,” Fenves said. “But right now, take one more look around at your friends, at your family. Appreciate this experience. You have reached a milestone in your life.”

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Lauren Yee (25Ox) is a news editor at The Emory Wheel. She is from Hong Kong and is majoring in religion. Outside of the Wheel, Yee serves on the boards of the Phi Gamma Literary Society and the Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists. In her free time, you can find her playing the saxophone, watching musicals or enjoying an iced oat milk matcha!