Senior Orations

Founders’ Day Convocation was held this past Thursday, and as part of the event, three senior orations were featured.  It’s always so interesting to me to hear seniors’ reflections.  They are close to graduation – now just some 3 months away! – and are starting to think back on what they learned here, what they experienced here, what they will miss, what they loved, what was hard, and what was exhilarating.  And what’s next in their lives.

Three outstanding students read senior orations at Convocation, and you can read them all online.  Jean Chen (’12) made an emotional speech about what her life had been like in Taiwan, and the vastly different educational system there, how she came to an independent decision about the choice of major and found an academic passion.  Amy Gardin (’12) shared a story about how a B made all the difference in her outlook on education: should one study what one loves, or what comes easy?   Brandon Turner (’12) talked about his love of science, his fear that science meant we reduced everything into explainable formulas and theorems and left the beauty and mystery out of life, and how he got past that discomfort.

Not every senior oration can be read at Convocation.  There was one this year that was not read in Wait Chapel, but may be of special interest to parents and alumni, because it tells the story of one senior’s family’s Wake Forest history.  I know we have alumni parent readers of the Daily Deac, and I wanted to put this out there especially for you.  You’ll recognize some of the storied names of emeriti faculty.  Enjoy this oration from senior Emily Hershman.

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Wake Forest: A Family Affair
By Emily Hershman (’12)

When asked to describe my relationship with Wake Forest, there is always one personal connection that supersedes all others: without Wake Forest, I would not have been born.  Had my parents not met each other in Dr. McDowell’s German history course in Tribble Hall, it is very possible that I would not be here today.  My past and present have been inextricably linked to this university, leading me to reflect on what I feel is a defining aspect of the quality of the Wake Forest experience: its dedicated faculty.  As the often unsung heroes of our pro humanitate motto, Wake Forest professors urge students to attain their full human potential by maintaining high standards of character and of scholarship.

Early in the Spring semester of 1968, my mother knocked on the door of Dr. James O’Flaherty’s office in the German department.  She was not happy.  A first year student, she had planned to become a German major, but a few long nights of trying to translate Nietzsche for his literature course had doused cold water over her aspirations.  Dr. O’Flaherty listened politely to her concerns, then told her that she should “wait a bit” before dropping the class and the major.  She took his advice, and this June will mark the end of her thirty-sixth year teaching German.  After my father edged his way past Dr. David Smiley’s ferocious pet dachshund, he found him to be a repository of both support and academic rigor as he composed a master’s thesis in Southern history.  Yet they were only two of the Wake Forest professors who would become household names for us because of their scholarship, intelligence, and kindness: Dr. Edwin Wilson, Dr. Richard Zuber, Dr. Timothy Sellner, and Dr. Edwin Hendricks.

Much has changed at Wake Forest since my parents were here.  Female students are no longer policed by dorm mothers and strict curfews.  The minority students of that era paved the way for our current commitment to diversity.  The faculty members I have worked with during my own undergraduate career, however, have convinced me that Wake’s tradition of academic excellence has remained consistent.  At once encouraging and demanding, these professors assisted me in cultivating skills of critical thinking and analysis.  A variety of literature, history, drama, social science, and foreign language classes provided me with a well-rounded education and close interaction with instructors.

It is nearly impossible to acknowledge every wonderful faculty member who has influenced my work and my life at Wake Forest.  During my freshman year, I took a fascinating first-year seminar on Martin Luther with Dr. Larry West, who had previously taught my mother.  Further courses with Dr. Grant McAllister and Dr. Alyssa Howards showed me that the German department’s high standards are alive and well.  Countless English professors have supported me and provided constructive criticism in developing a concise writing style and a clear argument.  In his inexhaustible knowledge of Irish literature and culture, Dr. Jeff Holdridge has offered invaluable insight as I compose my honors thesis on Samuel Beckett and Theodor Adorno.  Dr. Mary Deshazer’s classes introduced me to sophisticated analysis of the many forms women’s fiction, poetry, and history can take.  Along with Dr. Patrick Moran, she has helped me every step of the way as I struggle to plan my future.

Classes outside my English major allowed me to develop unique interdisciplinary perspectives.  Dr. Monique O’Connell’s course on the Italian Renaissance explored humanist intellectual traditions even as it tackled controversies of historical interpretation.  Dr. J.K. Curry’s class on theatre history introduced me to centuries of dramatic genres and criticism that in retrospect have been critical to my interpretation of Beckett.  Representing different fields, these teachers and scholars compel their students to ask the difficult questions, to be ever cognizant of the significance of a liberal arts education.  Their tutelage has inspired me to re-assert the relevance of the humanities in a society all too quick to undermine their importance.

During my four years here, my family ties to Wake Forest emerged in quirky and ironic ways.  In 1969, my father was a history graduate student living in Dr. D.A. Brown’s basement apartment.  In 2009, I was honored to receive the D.A. Brown Award for Excellence in Writing from the English department.  Although I am proud of what I have accomplished at Wake Forest, I know it would not have been possible without the support of dozens of professors whose passion, dedication, and intelligence have inspired generations of students.  Upon graduation I will enter a new phase of my life armed with the best possible training, as my parents did before me.  I am humbled to have taken part in this great academic tradition.  Thank you, Wake Forest.

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