Nearly 500 incoming college freshmen raise their Coca-Cola bottles in a toast to success. “To our rebirth!” they exclaim in unison, before taking a celebratory sip. It’s an orientation tradition at the Oxford College of Emory, about 30 minutes east of Atlanta, Ga., signifying the beginning of a new life chapter.

Coke toast at Oxford College of Emory

A Refreshing Tradition 

“As first-year students, it’s important that they have this common bond and this tradition to kick off the next four years,” says Rhiannon Hubert, director of orientation at Emory University's Atlanta campus.

The Atlanta Emory campus has a longstanding tradition of bringing students together for a Coke toast to celebrate the student’s first day on campus. In 2009 Hubert, an Oxford and Emory graduate, introduced the symbolic toast to Emory's Oxford, Ga. campus—the original Emory campus that offers an two-year program for students who want a small campus experience before moving to the Atlanta campus in their third year. 

Oxford College of Emory Coke Toast

Today, all first-year students on both campuses participate in a Coke toast to set off the first year of their Emory education. It’s a unique bond solidified at the end of their college experience. At graduation, the entire class rejoins for a second Coca-Cola toast to celebrate the beginning of yet another new life chapter— entering “the real world.” 

“It serves as a really important memory for students to come back four years later when they’ve been through so much to together during this wonderful Emory experience,” says Hubert. 

Unbottling a Bright Future

First-year Oxford College student Kevin Harrell says he couldn’t imagine a better way to kick off his college career. Even standing outside shoulder to shoulder on a sweltering hot August afternoon, the excitement was evident as Harrell and his new classmates raised their Coke bottles to cheers the next four years.

Post Coke toast 'selfie'

Before Dean for Campus Life Joseph Moon even took the stage, students celebrated, took selfies with their Coke bottles and embraced each other like old friends.

Moon, an obvious hit on campus based on the crowd’s reaction, spoke candidly about The Coca-Cola Company and Emory’s rich, 150-year history that extends well beyond a toast. 

Coke-Campus Connection

The relationship began with two brothers: Asa Candler, founder of The Coca-Cola Company, and Warren Candler, one of Emory’s first presidents. Asa Candler donated $1 million and 72 acres of land to move Emory’s campus closer to Atlanta (from its original home in Oxford). This move transformed Emory College into Emory University.

Candler Hall, Oxford College of Emory

The Coke connection continues with Robert Woodruff. Woodruff, who led The Coca-Cola Company for more than 50 years, enrolled as a student at the Oxford campus for a brief period of time. In 1979, he and his brother, George Woodruff, donated a $105 million endowment to the university. The donation was one of the largest single gifts given to an educational institution in the nation’s history. Subsequently, it helped boost Emory to the top ranks of American research universities.

Today the presence of these families are still visible on the two campuses. Several academic buildings are named after the Woodruffs in Atlanta and one after the Candlers in Oxford. But Coke's influence is no more meaningful to Emory students than during the unique toasts book-ending their college experience. 

"To our rebirth!”—three words, two memories, and a new Coke connection that will forever live in their hearts and minds. 

Coke & Emory Fun Facts: 

  • 1895: Asa Candler sent the first keg of Coca-Cola syrup ever seen in Oxford, Ga. to his son, a student at the college.
  • The first student to try Coca-Cola was a student at the Oxford College campus.
  • An old Emory song includes the line "So fill your cup, here's to the luck of the Coca-Cola School..."