Good afternoon. I am honored to welcome you to this beautiful space for one of our oldest university traditions, Founders’ Day.
At Duke, the calendar is filled with many formal and informal ceremonies. The students celebrate commencement; the faculty celebrate the day after commencement. Alumni return in droves for reunions, and our employees turn out for Employee Appreciation Day, which we hosted at Wallace Wade just a few days ago.
But there are few opportunities to celebrate the entire university community, collectively. There are few times when we can all come together and renew the bonds of university life that connect us to one another and to the many Dukies who have come before.
Today is one such celebration. As the name suggests, we are here to commemorate the founding visionaries of this university, to honor Washington Duke, who stepped in to save what was then Trinity College from financial disaster in the 1890s, Benjamin Duke, who established himself as Trinity’s primary benefactor, and James B. Duke, who provided the vision and financial support for Trinity to become a university.
The Dukes are towering figures in our history not only because they gave this university its start, but because their actions have supported us ever since. All three understood that with these investments they could turn their significant resources into an immeasurably larger return for the region and the world.
And at the university that bears their name, we know firsthand just how great the return has been. Their generosity literally built this campus, and everything we do here, every discovery made in our labs, every class taught by a distinguished faculty member, every life that is saved at the hospital is a direct result of their original investment.
Today, we honor them for this magnificent contribution.
At the same time, we recognize that the Dukes didn’t do it alone. What their descendant Mary Semans called the evolution of Duke has required the continued support of three generations of members of this noble academic community. Through the years, the Dukes’ initial investment was renewed by countless alumni, faculty, students, staff, and friends of the university who have themselves endowed the promise of this place.
You now sit among them. So as we join together today to honor our founders and celebrate the coming of another year in Duke’s remarkable history, let us remember with gratitude the Duke we have always been and look ahead with renewed purpose toward the Duke we are destined to become.