Good morning, everyone, and thank you for the kind introduction, Mark. While I am unfortunately going to have a leave early for a funeral, I am so delighted to have an opportunity welcome you all back to campus for today’s important commemoration.
The occupation of the Allen Building was one of the most pivotal moments in our university’s history, a moment that would not have been possible without your courage and conviction and your willingness to stand up for what was right. In the actions that you took, you forever shifted our sails toward the prevailing winds of justice and equality. Thank you.
I also want to acknowledge Dr. Brenda Armstrong, one of the organizers of the Allen Building takeover. Though she is not here with us today, her hard work, passion, and resilience have left a lasting mark on our campus. We are so very grateful that she spent her career at Duke.
So much has changed for the better in the past fifty years. For one thing, the Department of African and African American Studies was created in the immediate aftermath of the occupation, and it has become one of the most vibrant and vital departments on our campus.
Following the occupation, we also began the hard work of building an inclusive campus and workplace for everyone who calls Duke home. Today, we recognize that our community is enriched, our teaching and discovery broadened and deepened, by the diverse perspectives of our fellow members of the Duke community.
Last year, we celebrated the first majority minority class of incoming students, and we are striving to make a Duke education more accessible, through need-blind admissions and robust financial aid. Things are changing for the better.
But as we look beyond our gates – and indeed at times on our campus – it seems like too much has gone unchanged. We find ourselves still troubled by many of the same issues that inspired the Allen Building occupation. We may feel that we see history repeating itself, or continuing on the same trajectory. How then should Duke respond?
About a month ago, I was rereading some of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writing on education and social justice in preparation for our campus commemoration service. And I was struck by the famous quotation: “we are not makers of history; we are made by history.” Out of context, this can seem rather discouraging – it suggests we have no control over the circumstances that have brought us here.
But Dr. King goes on to elaborate. “Most people,” he wrote, “are thermometers that record or register the temperature of majority opinion, not thermostats that transform and regulate the temperature of society.” This is not a deterrent – it’s a challenge, a call to action.
At Duke, we want to teach our students to be thermostats. Particularly in this moment of overheated and damaging discourse, we want them regulate and transform society. We want them to promote the values they learn here – respectfulness, empathy, and courage in their convictions – and change the world.
Fifty years ago, you set that example. In your actions on our campus and the lives of purpose you have lived since, you have forever changed this place for the better and improved the lives of many who followed. We commend you for your courage, and we are so very proud to call you Dukies.