Gee calls for graduates to ‘repair the world’

May 10, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chancellor Gordon Gee today encouraged the Class of 2002 to use their knowledge and experiences at Vanderbilt “to shape and to repair” a world still reeling from the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

Gee conferred 2,725 degrees — 1,392 undergraduate degrees and 1,333 graduate or professional degrees — upon 2,710 students who fulfilled their requirements in August or December 2001, or May 2002.

For the first time in 32 years, a portion of the Commencement ceremony was moved indoors when a downpour interrupted the awarding of diplomas to undergraduates. The Chancellor had already delivered his address, and the graduate and professional school graduates had left Alumni Lawn. The awarding of degrees to undergraduates resumed at Memorial Gymnasium.

In his second Commencement address since becoming Chancellor, Gee asked the estimated 16,000 people attending the annual exercises on Alumni Lawn and another 1,100 estimated to have watched live via the Internet to consider the Jewish concept of tikkun olam.

“Tikkun olam means to heal, to repair, to restore what has been shattered, to mend what has been torn. It means to work always toward perfecting a world that is imperfect,” said Gee. “Tikkun, though, means more than patching. It means work toward what becomes almost an alteration of substance. This is a new world of change that we are all entering, that you are entering, a world of change to sculpt back out of a heap of ashes.” Click here for audio.

Davis “Deeg” Sezna of Wilmington, Del., who would have graduated with the Class of 2002, was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“I bring him to your attention not to manipulate your sentiments, but to urge you to mend this,” said Gee. “There is a tear in the universe where Davis fell through. Your job is to sew up this tear so that no one else will ever fall.”

Sezna’s mother, Gail, received a standing ovation from the crowd gathered in Memorial Gym when she walked across the stage as his name was being called during the diploma awarding ceremony. Sezna completed the requirements for his bachelor of arts from the College of Arts and Science last August.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Commencement exercises were broadcast over the Internet. Images from six broadcast-quality video cameras used for the webcast were also displayed on two giant video screens made available on Alumni Lawn.

Thomas G. Burish, former provost, was among the 25 members of the Vanderbilt faculty and administration who had the title of emerita or emeritus conferred upon them prior to Gee’s address. Burish, who was named president of Washington and Lee University effective July 1, was awarded the titles of provost, emeritus; professor of psychology, emeritus; and professor of medicine, emeritus. The top scholar from the University’s nine undergraduate and professional schools was awarded a Founder’s Medal before the deans of the graduate and professional schools awarded their respective graduates their diplomas in separate ceremonies.

Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony for graduates of the Owen Graduate School of Management.

The University sponsored a graduation party the night before Commencement that featured KC & the Sunshine Band, famous for ’70s hits such as “Get Down Tonight” and “That’s the Way (I Like It).”

Contact: Elizabeth Latt, (615) 322-NEWS

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