Thank you, Professor Weinthal, KB and Dylan for those thoughtful greetings.
We’re gathered here today to celebrate the Class of 2023 and your many achievements as Blue Devils since you arrived on campus—a moment that no doubt feels like a long time ago.
For the undergraduates among you, that arrival was on a sweltering August day four years ago, when I spoke at convocation, just over there in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I talked then about a special place in one of Duke’s hidden spaces: the granite marker in a quiet corner of Duke Gardens, indicating the 36th Parallel of Latitude.
This line runs through the straits of Gibraltar, ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, through areas of conflict and of great natural beauty, through empty corners of the Himalaya and major cities in China, South Korea, and Japan, through California’s Golden Gate, and it runs across our campus, connecting Baldwin Auditorium to the Chapel.
Since it was first projected by Eratosthenes in the third century B.C.E., this line has been a sort of beacon to travelers around the world—calling them to explore beyond the horizon, searching for places past what the eye can see, just out of reach.
In those remarks a few years ago, I encouraged the incoming class of 2023 to consider the ways that such imaginary lines can influence our lives.
Today, I propose we reflect on lines again: the lines each of you followed in coming to Duke; the ones you charted during your time here; and the ones you’ll traverse when you leave Wallace Wade this morning. In particular, I’d like to consider the ways that, for all of us here today, we are marking—indeed celebrating—the splendid and significant intersection of all those lines.
First, think about the lines each of you followed to this campus. No two of those life trajectories were identical—every line of arrival was unique, coming from a different place. And that’s the glory of a university. We reach out every year to a new group of young, visionary, ambitious travelers, each planning to head in different directions, and we invite you all to come together and live with us for a while here in Durham, to help you plan your ways forward.
Not all roads lead to Duke, but thankfully yours did. And joining us this morning are also many fellow travelers who helped you get here, your friends and families and teachers and mentors and supporters. Tens of thousands of different story lines and life lines, intersecting here at Duke.
Second, what of the lines you’ve charted since your arrival here? I suspect yours may have been a wandering course, I hope with many unexpected encounters, twists, and detours along the way that helped you rechart as you went. It has without a doubt been challenging at times. Surely none of us sitting in Cameron back in the late summer of 2019 had any premonition of the ways a global pandemic would alter our course.
But through it all, you’ve formed lifelong friendships, joined clubs, produced and performed works of art, competed on the field, in the pool and on the court, and conducted boundary-breaking research. Your line through Duke, whether wobbly at times or not, has intersected with so many others. You’ve each lived life at Duke to the fullest and followed your own particular path. A path to this successful outcome.
And finally, think about your lines forward from today. Maybe you’re headed now in a very different direction than you had imagined when you arrived. Or maybe the way you were planning to head is clearer to you now, and your steps in that direction a bit more confident. Or maybe you see in front of you some new pathways you hadn’t anticipated, and you’re debating, like the poet Robert Frost, which road in the yellow wood you will take.
As you move on from Duke and head off in innumerable different directions, along whatever lines you chart going forward, you will carry this place with you—spaces traversed, friendships made, and lessons learned—connecting your Duke experience with your journeys beyond the campus walls.
Like the 36th Parallel, the Duke Parallel is a line around which you can chart your course—and one that will continue to intersect with those drawn by your classmates and friends—and other Blue Devils you’ll meet in the future—in wonderful ways we can scarcely imagine. And if you get lost or turned around along the way, you can follow that line back here to campus, which will always, always be your home.
Class of 2023: Thank you for all the wonderful and impactful intersections, and for those many more to come. Congratulations and best wishes for the journey ahead.