On behalf of the Duke community, I am honored to welcome you to Duke Chapel for this celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

We gather here each year to remember Dr. King’s great contributions to the struggle for civil rights, to take stock of our continuing progress and occasional setbacks on the road to equality, and to recommit to building a nation that lives up to its promise of freedom and justice for all.   

This year, we are also called upon to reflect on what Dr. King’s example can tell us about our role in the world in these troubled and troubling times. What can the university, our university, do to deliver a future that is more equitable and just than our present? 

In an early essay, Dr. King wrote that education serves two purposes – utility in the life of the student and cultivation in society. That is, the student learns to be a critical thinker and to reject the forces of propaganda and injustice. But, King says, the life of the mind is not enough: we also have a responsibility to be moral actors, to use our intelligence to improve the world around us.

This lesson is still relevant for Duke today. We are proud to train students to be independent thinkers, to open them up to a world of possibility. At the same time, we set out to develop our society and to support the economic and social empowerment of our neighbors.

Consider the first-generation student who comes to Duke and becomes a legal advocate for underserved populations in rural North Carolina. Or the patient at Duke Health who receives lifesaving care and can return to being a devoted grandmother and pillar of her community. Or the nearly two hundred thousand Duke graduates from Kinston to Kuala Lumpur who are working to make the world a better place.

Training both thinkers and moral actors. It is through these dual missions that Duke is helping to bring to life the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And as we gather together in this sacred space, let us honor his memory by recommitting to serving our community as we strive together for equality and justice.

Delivered in Duke Chapel, January 20, 2019