Tyler Perry’s Honorary Degree at Emory Graduation
Popular filmmaker caps a busy season of graduation programs with a new commitment to help students finish their education debt-free.
Emory University capped a busy season of graduation programs with a new commitment to help students finish their education debt-free.
Emory President Gregory Fenves described the new program in a letter to the Emory community on May 19. Beginning this fall, he wrote, student aid loans for undergraduates from the U.S. would be replaced by outright grants from the university and from scholarships.
Fenves, who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, described the change as a way to support what he called “Emory’s purpose … to empower bold possibilities” without the heavy burden of financial debt.
“This is a profound investment in the future of our students, and it will reduce debt and help pave the way for their lives after graduation.”
Fenves acknowledged that 2022 was “a year like no other,” in which graduates achieved “a long-held dream in the face of unimaginable challenges.”
As if to underscore the notion that great things can be accomplished despite personal adversity, Emory chose Atlanta media mogul Tyler Perry to give the commencement speech. Perry suffered abuse during his childhood and turbulent adolescence, emerging from those years determined to be a writer, even after leaving home and living, for a time, in his car.
Madea, an outspoken African American matriarch character created and played by Perry, paved the way for a wildly successful acting, directing and producing career. “I know how long it takes to build a dream,” he told the graduating class of 5,000 students.
Perry said that it took seven years of persistent work before he achieved any measure of success and that the graduates should be prepared to do the same.
“Your dreams will call for that kind of commitment,” Perry said. “It took an insane work ethic for me to get here. It took time and commitment and sacrificing.”
The production company he launched now owns nearly 400 acres of what was once the Army’s Fort McPherson in Southwest Atlanta, where Perry has built over a dozen sound stages and nearly a dozen-and-a-half sets on the backlot. Over a nearly 30-year career, he has produced 17 successful feature films, 20 stage plays, 7 television series and a New York Times bestseller. The 52-year-old entrepreneur, whose net worth is estimated at over $800 million, was presented with an honorary doctorate.
Danielle Kerker Goldstein, who graduated from Emory Law School with the highest-grade point average in her class, was voted Most Outstanding Student. In March, she finished editing the latest issue of the Emory Law Journal just before the birth of her first child.
At the law school commencement, which fell on Mother’s Day, she told her graduating class that despite her achievements, the most important thing for her were relationships.
“What matters most to me are the people around me: my daughter. My husband. My grandfather, in the stands today, who escaped Auschwitz and survived the Holocaust, cancer and now COVID. My parents, my siblings, my friends. And the kind strangers who sent messages of encouragement and support.”
The new student aid program, which was first approved in January, began in 2007 as a way to help low- and middle-income families with undergraduate tuition and room and board costs, which total almost $72,000 a year. The university now provides over $350 million in grants for undergraduates, graduates and professional students. Students also receive another $24 million in scholarships and grants from the state and federal governments.
Ravi Bellamkonda, Emory provost and executive vice-president for academic affairs, described the new program as part of the university’s commitment to student success.
“This is just one way Emory is striving for the special Emory experience to be accessible to all students, independent of their socioeconomic status.”
Emory’s Jewish community, which is estimated at nearly 2,000 students, is represented by a Jewish chaplain employed by the university. Students enjoy a flourishing Hillel program housed in spacious quarters just off campus and an ambitious Chabad program.
While Emory was announcing its new student aid program, some of the Jewish students who would number among its first beneficiaries were already in Israel.
Because of pandemic cancellations, these students were on the first Emory Birthright trip to Israel since March 2020. Another 15,000 are expected in Israel later this summer for the ten day, all-expense paid trip.