As the 50th anniversary of my initiation into the Emory Senior Society approaches, I’m reflecting on my experiences as a student leader and activist during a very eventful time in our nation’s history, a period of rapid cultural and social change, and political conflict, not so different from today. 

I count the years I spent at Emory among the happiest of my life, and they are etched in my memory. I still remember vividly the knock at my door when Cliff Fields (70C) brought the news I had been chosen for membership in the Senior Society, the solemn and inspiring initiation ceremony, the jamboree and the moving words of elder statesmen who were the same age I am now, eager to see their love for Emory, the Society and its traditions passed on to a new generation of young leaders. 

The lives of students now must be equally challenging in these restless and uncertain times. It seems that every new generation is tested, and called upon to renew the spirit of our Republic, and breathe new life into our founding principles.

I’m sure students today wrestle with the same questions we did, questions that students have sought answers to for millennia, since the time of Socrates: How can I make a difference in this world? How can I make my life count and give it meaning and purpose? How do I lead an authentic life of character and integrity in a world obsessed with money, power and fame? My experiences at Emory, in the classroom, on the campus, in Atlanta, in rural Georgia, in Washington, D.C., and the wider world, helped me answer these questions, and confirmed my commitment to a life of service. 

Every one of us, regardless of the path we choose, can make our corner of the world a better place. That’s what has defined my life’s mission and purpose. I know it’s possible for an individual to make a difference in this world, not only because the pages of history tell us so, but because I’ve seen it with my own eyes and done it with my own hands. I’ve lived “a committed life,” as Martin Luther King Jr. used to say. In this I’ve been the most fortunate of men — to be allowed to spend my life working for causes I care about and principles I believe in. It’s been an exciting and fulfilling adventure all the way.

Throughout my career in southern Maryland, in all of my leadership roles, it’s been a privilege to play a part in the transformation of “my corner of the world” from a historically poor, uncompetitive region of the state to one of the most dynamic and prosperous in the nation. 

My early experiences at Emory, in a unique time and place, instilled in me a deep sense of civic responsibility, and the confidence and perseverance to face and overcome obstacles. Great civilizations need great citizens. In those formative years long ago, Emory was a crucible that helped forge my sense of obligation and duty to serve others, and prepared me well for the life I chose.

I’m proud to be a son of Emory and a member of our Senior Society, and grateful for the gifts bestowed on me many years ago as I prepared to embark on my life’s journey.

Gary V. Hodge is a 1971 graduate of the College.