I’ll begin by saying once again—welcome to the great Class of 2026. We are so thrilled to have you join the Duke family, and we know that you will each bring something extraordinary to this special place.

Let me also say welcome to the parents and families who are watching today’s convocation around the world—you are also entering the global Duke community, and we are grateful for your support.

We are gathered this afternoon on Abele Quad, the heart of West Campus, under the generous shade of these towering oak trees that seem as old as time. But it is East Campus, your home for this first year at Duke, that is actually much older. It was there that this institution moved to Durham in 1892 when it was still Trinity College. It was there that Duke’s first classes were held, first friendships born, first discoveries made, and yes, first basketball game played—in 1905.

And a little more than a century ago, it was on East Campus that President William Preston Few installed one of our first pieces of art—the statue of The Sower. Like some of you, this statue came a long way to arrive here, from Germany by way of New Jersey. But a quiet corner of East Campus is now his home—a farmer in bronze, scattering seeds from a sack around his waist.

President Few must have thought this was a fitting analogy for the college he led, which would grow from modest seeds into the towering university we see around us today. I would venture that he must also have believed The Sower was representative of the experience of learning—of potential growing into being.

Members of the Class of ’26, you have come to Duke to sow your goals and aspirations. And just like the oaks that surround us and stretch along the drive to East Campus, we know that what you plant here will grow tall and true.

In that spirit, I want to offer three thoughts as you enter this exciting new season of growth.

First, know that the Sower’s seeds landed in the right spot: this is fertile soil. It has been tilled and cared for by generations before you—and by the classmates and teachers you will meet along the way. From your first day of class to your last, through your exploration of opportunities like Bass Connections and Duke Engage, from creating art and performing to tenting in K-ville, you will find countless opportunities to have your perspectives broadened, your principles deepened, and your curiosity sparked.

You’ll have a chance while you’re here to get into the weeds—to explore your interests with classmates and expert teachers, to conduct research on real-world problems, to serve our community and engage with the world.

Take full advantage—but remember, it takes time for things to grow, and patience. By rushing into every opportunity or taking on too much, we can rob ourselves of the joy of reflection and contemplation.

So I have one valuable recommendation if you find yourself needing some time: make a list of 10 things you are doing or want to do, and scratch two off. Doing fewer things allows us to explore interests in greater depth and focus, to get out of the weeds and take a step back, and to remain open to those opportunities yet to come.

My second piece of advice today is for you—like the trees planted by the Sower—to sink deep roots here. We are thrilled that yours is the first class to experience the full benefits of QuadEx—and that your Duke will be more engaging, inclusive, and fun than it has ever been before. Seek and relish in those moments of connection, whether formal events with your quad or casual conversations at Marketplace and kanjam in the Gardens.

These moments are what make Duke Duke, and they are what keep you rooted in this special place for the next four years and a lifetime to come. As you sink deep roots, also be sure to branch out.  Get to know people who are truly different from you—who have ideas that excite you, challenge you, or even upset you. They are the ones who will help you grow even stronger.

The extraordinary connections you make here will far transcend the walls of our campus—you are today entering a global Duke community numbering hundreds of thousands who want to do all that they can to help you succeed. These are strong roots—they run deep and will support you as you grow. 

And with the Sower’s hopeful planting in mind, my final recommendation to you today is the most important: take good care of yourself.

Even with the best soil and the deepest roots, plants need a bit of care to grow and thrive—particularly in dry or stormy seasons. Likewise, to be at your best here, you have to first invest in your health and wellness. Make time for exercise, eat right, and get lots of rest and relaxation. Explore this wonderful city of Durham. Go for a hike in the forest. And when a dry spell or storm comes, seek support in our comprehensive wellness and mental health resources.

Most importantly of all—Get. Some. Sleep. I say this every year at this event because I really mean it. A tired brain can’t learn, can’t enjoy relaxation, and can’t thrive nearly as well as a rested one. Believe me, it’s important.

When you stroll over to The Sower in these next few weeks, you’ll notice something remarkable: over the years, through a sort of Duke magic, he has succeeded in his planting. He’s surrounded now by a grove of oaks and pines much taller than these — but if you look at photos from the early years of campus, you will see that those trees were but tiny saplings, planted on the edges of a small but hopeful new institution.

Think how they have grown over the years—thriving in the rich soil, sinking deep roots, and benefitting from the care of generations of Duke people.

Like those towering trees, you are sowing seeds of your own here—with excitement and attention and more than a little hope—and we can’t wait to watch them grow.

Welcome, Class of ’26. We are so glad you are here.