To the Duke community,
As we enjoy the longer days of summer that mark the transition from one academic year to the next, I would like to offer my sincere thanks for the outstanding year we’ve just concluded, and for the unique expertise, ideas, and talents each of you brings to our campus and Health System.
Yet, as we celebrate the accomplishments of the past year, many of us are anticipating with apprehension potential changes in federal law, and noting shifts in the local landscape that could adversely affect our community.
The U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision this summer that addresses the legality of race-conscious admission policies at colleges and universities. Other public officials have questioned the value of programs that enhance and support diversity, and recent legislative actions have generated concerns among some members of our community regarding safety and belonging.
Duke is firmly committed to our values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence, and to continuing our work to be an equitable and inclusive environment for all.
Duke is an extraordinary community of faculty, staff, and students because of the wide range of backgrounds, lived experiences, and perspectives that you bring to your work and studies every day. That inclusive excellence is also what continues to propel us to greater strengths and positions of global leadership.
We will always work to foster an equitable and inclusive environment. I cannot promise we will immediately have answers to all of your questions or concerns in the coming days and weeks. However, I assure you that our work to advance racial and social equity—at Duke, in our local community, and beyond—will not be deterred.
I urge you to learn more about the impactful work of Duke’s Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC). And I also encourage you to reach out to the Office for Institutional Equity with questions, concerns, or to find additional resources for supporting inclusive excellence.
My thanks to you for everything you do to advance our mission and make Duke an institution in which we all can take pride.
Category: Speeches & Writings Page 1 of 6
To the Duke community,
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.
Thank you, Erika—and thank you for your truly exceptional leadership these past two years. It has been a great pleasure to work with you, and while I am certain you are more than ready to hand over the reins, you will be missed.
I also want to recognize the outgoing members of ECAC for your leadership and counsel—thank you, all of you.
And let me also say congratulations to Trina, our incoming chair. I am grateful for the many ways you have already offered your leadership to Duke, and I look forward to working closely with you in the months to come.
It is perhaps fitting that my annual reflections to this council fall after spring break, now that we’ve had some time to look back before we begin the final sprint to the end of the year. And what a wonderful year it has been.
We’ve launched QuadEx and the Duke Climate Commitment, initiatives that are transforming the student experience and our campus sustainability efforts.
We have added extraordinary new deans of the Graduate School, Suzanne Barbour; and Trinity College, Gary Bennett.
We celebrated two Rhodes Scholars, a Mitchell Scholar, and two Schwarzman Scholars.
And this has been an exceptional year for our faculty.
Ingrid Daubechies received the Wolf Prize for her tremendous contributions to the mathematical foundations of image processing, remote sensing, and digital photography.
Kafui Dzirasa of the School of Medicine and Amanda Randles of Pratt received the prestigious NIH Pioneer Award for championing creative solutions to pressing medical challenges.
Susan Alberts received the International Frontiers of Knowledge Award for her groundbreaking work in Ecology and Conservation Biology.
Leela Prasad of Religious Studies was elected to the American Academy of Religion’s executive leadership—she will serve as president next year.
The Anti-Defamation League honored Abdullah Antepli of Sanford with the Daniel Pearl Award in recognition of his advocacy for peace and reconciliation.
Priya Kishnani of the School of Medicine received the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, for her lifesaving research on pediatric rare diseases.
Three faculty members—Lawrence David, Chantell Evans, and Gustavo Silva—were among 25 awardees of the Science Diversity Leadership Awards from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
And we’ve celebrated five new members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.
These reflect just a few of the tremendous accolades received by our faculty over the course of this year—I really could go on all afternoon. So let me say congratulations to all of you. You are doing extraordinary work in your teaching and scholarship, and I am proud to call you colleagues.
This year is also extraordinary as it marks the 60th anniversary of the academic council—a remarkable testament to Duke’s commitment to shared governance. For six decades, this body has given faculty a strong and vital voice in shaping the university’s strategy and direction.
The existence of the council has unquestionably been to the great benefit of Duke, so it may surprise you that it arose out of difficult circumstances: the so-called Edens-Gross Affair.
The received history of this affair—as a conflict between the then-president’s commitment to Duke’s identity as a regional institution and the vice-president for education’s vision for transforming it into a global university—is untrue.
What did happen was a series of administrative squabbles that penetrated the university board of trustees and the Duke Endowment board and drove divisions between them, precipitating the president’s resignation, the vice-president’s dismissal, and widespread unhappiness among the faculty. As any veteran of institutional quarrels will tell you, this conflict was perhaps as much about personalities as it was about a difference in vision. But we remember it because it reflected a moment of profound change—a transition from the Duke we were to the Duke we have become. Within a few years, it prompted the creation of the office of the provost and also this body—and with it much of our contemporary and far more functional practice of shared governance.
Today, Duke sits in a position of real leadership. We also sit at the confluence of strong societal and economic currents—of financial challenges and the disruptions of a post-pandemic labor market; of political tensions and questions of open inquiry and respectful discourse; of the continued promulgation of disinformation; of the opportunities and threats posed by technology; and of the fraught mental health and wellness landscape of our student population.
Taken together, I believe this is a moment of transition just as profound as that of the 1960s. And we are rightfully asking ourselves again some challenging questions. What should change, and how quickly should we change it? What is our shared vision for the future, and how should we arrive there? How can we position ourselves to not only lead but to thrive in the century to come?
The most visible manifestation of this moment of transition is in our leadership. It is a very good thing when the world looks to Duke for great leaders—as in the case of Valerie Ashby, now the president of UMBC, and Sally Kornbluth, now the president of MIT.
We have also recently announced that Gene Washington will be stepping down as Chancellor this summer after eight years of transformative leadership and the historic creation of our new Duke Health Integrated Practice.
These transitions leave roles to fill—but Duke will be going from strength to strength.
As I mentioned before, we’re so thrilled that Gary Bennett is already several months into his tenure as Trinity Dean, having taken the baton from Mohamed Noor, who was a fantastic interim and is serving in a new capacity as vice provost for academic affairs.
Likewise, Jennifer Francis has been a truly outstanding leader in her current role as interim provost—working directly with me and other senior leaders to move Duke forward. And Chris Simmons has been equally terrific as our interim Vice President for Communications, helping us position Duke’s internal and external identity amidst a complex landscape for higher ed.
Both the Vice President for Communications and Provost searches are nearing completion and have attracted exceptional talent. We have engaged faculty leadership from across Duke’s schools in these important searches—thank you to those committee members who are with us today.
The second area of continued transition is in significant new strategic programming.
Since my last presentation to this council, we have made extraordinary progress on campus-wide initiatives under the five focus areas of the strategic vision that I first articulated in 2018: empowering the boldest thinkers, transforming teaching and learning, strengthening our campus community, partnering with purpose in our region, and engaging our global network of alumni and friends.
I want to provide just a few brief updates.
Under the leadership of Vice President for Research and Innovation Jenny Lodge, Duke Science and Technology continues to move forward in extraordinary ways. With a focus on three primary areas—materials science; computing; and biologic resilience—we have raised more than $300 million to hire 26 faculty members, retain others, and make significant investments in our research capacity.
I am thrilled that we’ve also launched two DST seed grant programs, which this year supported research by 29 additional faculty members.
What’s particularly exciting about Duke Science and Technology is that it coincides with a renewed emphasis on research translation and commercialization, led by Robin Rasor. Last year, we launched 14 new startups and generated $450 million in investment in Duke-launched companies. Taken together, these efforts will help us ensure that the discoveries that drive our future begin here, at Duke.
As I mentioned earlier, we launched QuadEx this fall thanks to the leadership of Mary Pat McMahon, Gary Bennett, Candis Watts-Smith, and many hands from across student affairs and the faculty. This reimagined approach to living and learning will equip all Duke students to navigate complex issues in the world ranging from building inclusive communities, encouraging diversity of thought, promoting wellness and purpose, and supporting civil discourse.
For the first time, every incoming undergraduate was able to participate in themed pre-orientation programs, and sophomore spark is guiding our second-year students through the transition to West Campus.
Seven faculty fellows are helping to lead the way—forming meaningful bonds with students outside of the classroom.
Already this is bearing fruit: a survey of members of the Class of 2026 showed that 94 percent felt they belonged at Duke, an extraordinary number among our peer institutions. Only about one and half percent of our rising sophomores requested a different quad.
We’re also turning our attention to creating stronger community ties in the graduate and professional student population. Implementation of the Reimagining Doctoral Education initiative, which was launched under the Together Duke academic plan, is transforming the experience of PhD students, and there are significant opportunities for improvement and greater coordination across all our programs.
This fall, we also announced the Duke Climate Commitment—our campus-wide effort to seek climate change solutions and advance climate education—and it’s well underway.
In January, we announced the Climate Research Innovation Seed Program, or CRISP—which is funding transformational research on sustainability and the environment. Funds were provided by the Nicholas Institute, the Provost’s Office, the Nicholas School, and five additional schools across campus.
41 teams including faculty from 8 schools submitted proposals; funding will be split between research awards focused on energy transformation and ideation awards focused on energy transformation, climate and community resilience, climate and environmental justice, and climate and data.
We’re defining the concept of climate literacy across the disciplines, as perhaps best demonstrated by the new university course on climate, which has been immensely popular. We’re also piloting efforts to expand the Campus as Lab initiative in partnership with our campus sustainability work—which has achieved a 43% reduction in greenhouse gases and continues to move forward.
We are deepening our commitments to racial and social equity, and I am very grateful for the continued work of the Racial Equity Advisory Council and the Offices of Institutional Equity and Faculty Advancement, which are driving this important initiative into its third year.
Duke is changing at the unit and local level, and we are making real progress toward fostering a more inclusive campus community. In January, over three hundred campus leaders participated in a day-long retreat focused on racial equity. It was a terrific program—led by Kim Hewitt, Abbas Benmamoun, and Sherrilyn Black, with contributors from dozens of units. Looking ahead, we are working toward the release of the “Duke Annual Report on Racial Equity” or the DARRE, which will help units track and measure their progress.
In the past two years, we’ve funded 35 faculty research projects supporting efforts to understand and address systemic racism, including 17 projects related to race, racism and the history of the American South and 18 projects related to racial inequality.
Our faculty is also changing in meaningful ways. In the past few years, we’ve hired over two dozen faculty members whose scholarship focuses on racial and social equity. And from 2017 to 2022, we made significant gains in demographic diversity, including a 51 percent increase in our number of Black-identifying faculty, a 30 percent increase in our Hispanic faculty, and a 17 percent increase in our Asian and Asian American faculty. These hiring efforts will continue apace.
In addition to transitions in leadership and ongoing initiatives, we’re also breaking new ground in our goal of transforming teaching and learning for the next century.
Last year, we completed a forward-looking strategic thinking process, Strategy Team 2030, which focused on the goals and opportunities that will carry us through the remainder of this decade and beyond.
As Sally outlined to this council last year, the 2030 report recommended focusing on fostering a more cohesive and research-inflected undergraduate experience, building richer campus connections for graduate and professional students, and renewing support systems for research and scholarship. We are in the early stages of exploring how to implement these recommendations—but this work will remain an important focus for many years to come.
Likewise, there are significant curricular changes underway. One major transition will be the adoption of a new curriculum for Trinity, which I anticipate will include significant opportunities for collaboration and partnership with the other schools. And as I mentioned in my remarks here last year, the upcoming fundraising campaign—launching publicly in 2025—will support faculty and research across the disciplines. Already, we have raised amounts approaching the Duke Forward total, and we fully anticipate that this will be the largest campaign in Duke’s history.
Exciting transitions are underway—with more to come.
As we mark this 60th anniversary of the academic council—and look ahead to Duke’s centennial celebration next year—we have an opportunity to celebrate all of the many transitions that Duke has made.
Our transition from a small regional college to a global university. Our transition from a closed campus for the few to an open campus for all. Our transition from an institution hemmed in by disciplinary divisions to a community that champions collaboration.
We’ll also be celebrating the things that haven’t changed: our values of integrity, service, and shared governance, our ambitions, and—above all—our exceptional students, staff, alumni, and faculty.
With that in mind, let me end by saying thank you for your support of the Duke we have always been, and the ever more extraordinary Duke we are destined to become.
To the Duke Community,
I am writing today with an update on the Duke Climate Commitment, the university-wide initiative launched last September to harness Duke’s extraordinary strengths and resources toward the goal of addressing climate change.
Duke is in a unique position to deliver solutions that will place society on a path to a more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and healthy future, and the Climate Commitment offers us a new model for collaborative action. As highlighted today in stories from across the university, we seek to unify our efforts and amplify interdisciplinary climate and sustainability work, offering every member of the Duke community an opportunity to engage in these efforts. I am very grateful to Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment Toddi Steelman, Interim Director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability Brian Murray, and Executive Director of Climate and Sustainability Tavey Capps for their leadership.
Today, I am pleased to announce specific, measurable commitments on climate, embedded into the five areas of Duke’s strategic framework: empowering the boldest thinkers, transforming teaching and learning, renewing our campus community, forging purposeful partnerships in Durham and the region, and engaging our extraordinary global network.
As we empower the boldest thinkers, we commit to
- expand and further refine our climate research in four core areas—energy transformation, climate and community resilience, data-driven climate solutions, and environmental and climate justice;
- support research projects related to climate through new initiatives, including the Climate Research Innovation Seed Program (CRISP), University-Wide Collaboration Grants on Climate Change, and Data Expeditions;
- engage faculty, students, and staff from across the university to foster new collaborative and interdisciplinary research connections.
As we transform teaching and learning, we commit to
- build on the success of UNIV102 and partner with schools across the university to infuse climate and sustainability into educational programs, preparing Duke students to lead in the 21st century;
- launch a teaching fellows program to support instructors in incorporating climate and sustainability in their courses;
- offer workshops to students, faculty, and staff to deepen their knowledge and agency on issues related to climate and sustainability;
- explore resource needs for career services to better prepare students for entering the workforce with the goal of contributing to climate change solutions;
- expand the Campus as Lab program to use Duke’s campus as a living laboratory.
As we renew our campus community, we commit to
- continue progress towards Duke’s goals for carbon neutrality, outlined in the 2019 Climate Action Plan Update.
- build on the 43% greenhouse gas emissions reductions to date as we navigate challenges from the pandemic, with a focus on campus energy efficiency, off-campus solar, renewable natural gas, and opportunities to retain the significant emission reductions realized in employee commuting and air travel over the past two years;
- continue to work with a staff, faculty and student advisory committee to evaluate potential carbon offsets projects that meet our high standards;
- seek new opportunities to directly engage staff in Duke’s sustainability efforts, including through workshops, workplace certifications, and educational resources;
- develop a Duke Sustainable Fleet and Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Plan to reduce the impact of campus vehicles and expand EV infrastructure;
- continue working with DUMAC to support endowment investments in sustainability, in accordance with the Guideline on Investment Responsibility adopted by the Board of Trustees;
- expand efforts to infuse sustainability further into Duke’s supply chain through campus policies and contract language;
- explore opportunities to support and increase sustainability efforts in the Duke Health system.
As we partner with purpose in Durham and the region, we commit to
- strengthen our relationship with the City of Durham and promote regional sustainability through the Strategic Community Impact Plandeveloped by the Office of Durham and Community Affairs;
- engage local, state, and federal policymakers regarding equitable climate and sustainability solutions;
- deepen our involvement with green entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders in the Research Triangle and beyond.
As we engage our global network of alumni, we commit to
- convene climate leaders on campus to share their work and engage with the Duke community, including these events in Spring 2023, among others:
Sustainable Business and Social Impact conference,
Blue Economy Summit, hosted by Oceans@Duke,
Climate Change, Decolonization, and Global Blackness series at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and
Histories and Society in the Hydrosphere conference, hosted by the Center for International and Global Studies;
- develop opportunities for alumni who are invested in climate and sustainability work to connect with our education, research and engagement efforts on campus and beyond;
- provide climate and sustainability literacy and fluency opportunities for alumni through lifelong learning and digital education partnerships.
Over the coming months and years, we will track our progress on these commitments on the Climate Commitment website. We recognize that this initiative may evolve and will take time to implement, and we will only succeed through the collective action of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.
These commitments are both aspirational and inclusive. They allow us to think about the kind of university we want Duke to be. I invite you personally to be a part of this important effort.
The Duke Climate Commitment marks a hopeful moment—when we seize the opportunity to lead toward a brighter future. I hope you will join me in this transformational undertaking.
Together, Duke is in it for life.
To the Duke Community,
With the approach of Thanksgiving, I write in gratitude for all you do as members of our Duke community and to extend best wishes.
As we enjoy the company of family and friends, many among us are working through the holiday and unable to celebrate, or are separated from loved ones many miles away. All of us are feeling the strain of a world that seems unsettled and divided.
In these moments, I draw both strength and inspiration from our Duke University family, and I hope others find that encouragement and comfort as well. Wherever we come from or whatever brings us to Duke, we all belong here together. And everything we do—in the classroom, on campus, in the clinic, or in our surrounding neighborhoods—we do as part of a community, turning with shared values and commitment toward a more joyful tomorrow.
I am grateful you are with us at Duke and hope you find refreshment and relaxation this Thanksgiving.
Thank you all for being here for this exciting moment for Duke.
I’d like to begin by recognizing trustee Jeff Ubben, who served as chair of our Climate Change and Sustainability Task Force, along with Dean of the Nicholas School Toddi Steelman and Executive Director of Sustainability Tavey Capps, who both served as Vice Chairs. Without your leadership, none of this would be possible. Thank you.
In coming to Duke, I knew I was joining a community of enormous intellectual power. We are also a community dedicated to purpose and commitment, a community brimming with innovation and potential and the opportunity to write a bold new chapter. Today, that new chapter—a story of a better future—begins.
The Duke Climate Commitment is a transformational initiative for Duke, one that is unprecedented in our history and in higher education.
Never have we committed to marshaling every part of our enterprise—our collective resources, talents, and passions—toward solving a global problem in such a focused way. The scale and importance of our climate-related challenges call for nothing less: creating sustainable and equitable solutions that will place society on the path to a resilient, flourishing, net-zero-carbon world by mid-century.
Our history has prepared us well to rise to this moment—indeed, at a time when some of our peers are launching new climate schools, we have been leading in this work for as long as we have been Duke.
The School of Forestry and the Marine Laboratory were both founded more than 80 years ago, in the early days of our university. More than 30 years ago these entities came together into one school—and thanks to a foundational gift from the Nicholas family, we now have the Nicholas School of the Environment.
Seventeen years ago, we launched what is now the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, which elevates our environmental work through education, sustained engagement, and convening of stakeholders and policy experts. A dozen years ago, we launched our plan to achieve carbon neutrality, and we have operated with a broad strategic plan to achieve sustainability in areas such as energy, water, food, and land use.
The Duke Climate Commitment builds on and concentrates these many complementary resources. Our research will advance core areas of expertise in transforming energy, creating climate-resilient communities and ecosystems, and developing data-driven climate solutions—all with a focus on more equitable engagement. Our teaching will infuse climate and sustainability into programs across the university, improving the lives of our students and preparing them to lead as alumni.
But the reason that this can only happen at Duke is our distinctive excellence in interdisciplinary collaboration. While the Duke Climate Commitment will have the Nicholas School and Institute at its heart, it will encompass research and teaching across all of our schools and institutes, guide our campus operations, and help us foster stronger, collaborative relationships with partners in our community, state, nation and around the globe.
To that end, we’re launching data expeditions with an initial focus on climate and health and collaboration grants to drive creative research across disciplines. We’re committing to making climate and sustainability fluency foundational to the curriculum for every student at Duke and extending our reach to our alumni. As we continue to work toward our goal of carbon neutrality in 2024 and to lead the way in sustainable operations, we’re developing Duke as a living laboratory to study and solve climate and sustainability issues. And perhaps most importantly, we’re supporting environmental sustainability in the community and advancing our understanding of the critical impacts of climate change on social and racial equity.
None of this would be possible without the support of our extraordinary partners, donors, and alumni.
The Duke Endowment has provided early foundational support in launching climate literacy, research, and campus sustainability efforts.
Jeff and Laurie Ubben and Mike and Karen Stone are leading the way in supporting our transformational teaching and an endowed professorship.
Katy Hollister and her husband Brad Miller have provided seed funding along with an anonymous 1994 Pratt School graduate to create the DESIGN Climate program—a first-in-class experiential learning initiative for engineering and environmental students.
Cindy Marrs has supported courses and co-curricular activities in climate finance in the Duke Financial Economics Program.
And building on their incredible support of this work, the Nicholas Family this week announced a significant lead gift to create a Presidential Climate Action and Innovation endowment to lift the entire university-wide initiative.
These gifts represent a tremendous foundation for a climate commitment that will harness the best of Duke toward solving a seemingly intractable problem.
We know we can do it. We know that we will do it.
And that’s why the Duke Climate Commitment marks a hopeful moment for us—when we seize the opportunity and step up to our responsibility to lead toward a brighter, healthier future. I hope you will join us in this transformational undertaking.
Duke is in it, together, for life. Thank you.
[END OF EVENT]
I want to thank our program and panel participants for joining us today—and thank everyone here with us for your support as we mark this important moment—both for our university and the world that we hope to shape.
Too often in modern life, the drive to be innovative, the drive to be creative, has not been coupled with a thoughtful approach to being sustainable—to innovating in a way that leaves us all better off fifty or a hundred years down the road.
As an institution, we have an opportunity today to chart a different course. At Duke, we have the bold thinkers to allow us to make this commitment. We have the diversity of thought, we have the talented students and staff, we have the global network of extraordinary alumni, we have the obligation as an employer, and we have the history.
That is why we must succeed. That is why Duke is in it, together, for life.
Thank you all. That concludes today’s event, but I hope you will join us for the sessions tomorrow and beyond.
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.
Thank you all for the opportunity to join you today to honor the extraordinary life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1964, the same year that the Dr. King came to Duke to speak, he was asked to respond to the notion—already then in currency—that Black Americans should be satisfied with the progress already made toward civil rights. Dr. King bristled at this shortsighted and cynical suggestion, writing:
“A beginning sincerely made is one thing, but a token beginning that is an end in itself is quite another.”
I have been reflecting on this statement—struck both by its prescience and by its continued relevance to our work and experience here at Duke.
We are proud of the progress that we have made toward building a more inclusive university—progress that began back in the 60s with the belated integration of our student body and faculty, progress that deepened and intensified with our new focus on anti-racism in the past two years.
To be sure, we have gained significant ground. In hearing Dr. King’s call, however, we must remember that this progress is just a beginning—a sincere beginning, to be sure, but not an end in itself.
As I wrote to the community last year, the promises of equality and opportunity that define our nation will elude us unless we confront and overcome the inequities on our campus and beyond. That is why anti-racism and equity—alongside our core institutional values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence—will be vital priorities for Duke not just in this moment of change, but for many years to come.
In order for us to succeed in fostering a more inclusive culture, we know that our efforts must be serious and sustained institution-wide. And importantly, these actions have been undertaken with an eye toward promoting equity at each level of the university.
In the spirit and inspired by the example of Dr. King, we will continue our work and know that it will not be complete until there is a truly equitable, inclusive future for everyone who comes to our campus to work, study, live, or play. Thank you.
On behalf of the Duke community, I am honored to welcome you to Duke Chapel for this commemoration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the rhythms of the university calendar, this important event is perhaps unique, in that it is both a solemn and celebratory occasion—celebratory because we mark the progress made toward Dr. King’s noble goals, and solemn because we mourn his loss and the long and challenging road ahead.
In that spirit, I have been reflecting on this year’s theme—Dr. King’s notion that tomorrow is today, that we should be inspired to action by the fierce urgency of now.
To be sure, our now has perhaps never been more fierce or more urgent—amidst a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color and a parallel pandemic of racism and violence across our country.
In the face of these circumstances, we must take action today—inspired by Dr. King’s profound words—to build a better tomorrow. We are committed to doing this work at Duke, to making anti-racism a core priority at every level of our university and providing leadership and compassion to our neighbors.
As we gather for this solemn celebration, may we remember that the work that Dr. King undertook half a century ago has still only just begun—and while the road ahead may be long, we are walking it together toward a better tomorrow.
Thank you all for being with us today. We gather as a community in this solemn moment to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
The great poet Maya Angelou, who preached many times in this Chapel, wrote that trauma lives on “in our heart, our mind, and our memories.” As we gather today, we all share in the collective trauma of those terrible events, whether we remember them or not. We share in the pain of the lives lost, in the uncertainty of a world still unbalanced by the horror of that day, and in the mistrust that sadly pervades so much of our society.
But even amidst this despair, there is an opportunity for extraordinary hope. As Maya Angelou reminds us, we are not left with our memories alone—we also have our hearts and our minds. Together, we can turn with our hearts to build a more inclusive, empathic community here at Duke and beyond. We can use our minds to foster a greater understanding of our world and our place in it, and to live lives of service to our neighbors and engagement with our communities.
Today, as we mark this anniversary, let us hear that call together. Thank you.