Much to our delight, poet and fiction writer Rita Dove was chosen by Emory as this year’s Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient. Born in Ohio and daughter to one of the first black chemists to work in the tire industry, Dove is the youngest and first black U.S. Poet Laureate and the second black poet to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
It has been 10 years since a person from the humanities discipline has been chosen to speak at Emory. We at the Wheel are pleased that this year’s speaker comes from a humanities background. Considering this year has been a tumultuous time for the liberal arts community here at Emory and that many may feel undervalued and marginalized, it is important that speakers similar to Dove are brought to Emory to show that we still hold a high degree of respect for these disciplines.
In years past, speakers have come from primarily political and medical backgrounds including physician Benjamin S. Carson Sr. and former Calif. governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dove will be a refreshing change.
Dove’s poetry focuses on the art of lyricism and aesthetic beauty while incorporating important historical and political aspects of society, which are expressed through her own personal experiences. She takes an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating different kinds of art forms in her writing. Specifically, she writes about the connection between poetry and music, drawing parallels between the beauty of dance and music. This connection between disciplines is one that we hope to emulate as a liberal arts institution here at Emory University.
While Dove may not be well-known among students, she is nonetheless accomplished, and we do not doubt that as a poet, she will be able to pull from those life experiences to deliver an inspiring speech.
With regards to the process by which commencement speakers are chosen, we understand that it is a difficult and complicated one. Our current understanding is that students on the committee are asked to reach out to their peers for feedback. We believe that greater systems and structures should be implemented to maximize student opinion from seniors. These steps could take the form of an online survey, a table at Wonderful Wednesday or even those student groups on campus who have demonstrated their unconditional commitment to the Emory community. Of course, it’s impossible to please everyone, but greater steps should be taken to hear their voices.