Christoph Guttentag Introduces the Class of 2016

I love this day and what it represents -- the first full gathering of the Class of 2016, your formal entry into the Duke community, and the beginning of parents being ever so gently shown the door.  But now I think, maybe I love yesterday even better.  My staff and I had the pleasure of helping with move-in yesterday, and it represented some of what we love so much about Duke.  The enthusiasm, the energy, both the careful planning and the spontaneous celebrating, the chance to eat together outside on a warm summer night, and the efforts of so many different people coming together simply to help other people who needed it.  500 volunteers participate in orientation, and they do it because even as students they want to give back to Duke.  That's part of what makes Duke special, and now you're a part of that too. 

Each year, I have the privilege of presenting the entering class to the President and to the faculty here at Convocation. You represent the culmination of by far the most selective admissions process in our history.  We received well over 31,000 applications this year, almost 2000 more than last year alone, and over 11,000 more than just four years ago. And each of you -- each of you -- were appealing enough in your own way to be one of the fewer than one in eight we admitted. 

You're bringing to Duke a wide variety of perspectives.  You've come from over 50 countries and from 49 states.  49 states.  Please, if you meet a high school student this year from Montana, encourage him or her to come to Duke.  192 of you come outside the US; from within the U.S., California and North Carolina are tied for the top states represented, with 175 students each; 47% of you are students of color. 

You come to us from 1008 different cities and towns, and their names alone give us a sense of the real diversity you represent.  You're here from Bangkok and Basalt, from Lagos and Laredo, from Sunrise and Sao Paulo, Chicago and Ho Chi Minh City, Boise and Boston, from Las Vegas and Lodi, Anchorage and Amman, and from Hercules, and Eureka, and Excelsior, and Effort.  And interestingly, President Brodhead, the high school of the student from Effort is located in Brodheadsville.  So that seem appropriate.

In the past, I've shared some interesting email addresses that applicants have used, but now, it's in your tweets that we learn some interesting things about you. 

Just yesterday -- during move-in -- you shared such classic observations such as:

  • Time to perform the sensational trick of fitting my life into 150 square feet
  • My mom is already crying…I haven't even moved in yet and we're sitting in a line of cars waiting
  • FAC's doing the Wobble (followed by:)
  • Teaching parents how to Wobble.  That's how we do.
  • You know it's a good sign when your dorm is blasting house music
  • Love my school.  Jazz music in the health center?  Yes please.

I should add, that not all was perfect.  One parent tweeted:

  • My daughter has been given this horrible little room that doesn't even have a closet.  I just want to cry.

But for the most part tweets reflected what we expected; two of my favorites were:

  • This is CRAZY overwhelming in an awesome-weird-can my parents leave now kind of way,

And maybe my favorite:

  • OMG so overwhelmed omg omg omg #soexcited


We're excited too, because you're bringing to Duke some impressive accomplishments.  Among your classmates are individuals…

  • Who have created a third party voter registration organization 
  • Who have been praised for being the longest-serving volunteer at a zoo,
  • Who have organized the weekly picking of over 1000 pounds of fresh fruit from neighborhood trees to be delivered to the local rescue mission;
  • Who've won a state title in Golden Gloves boxing
  • Who've won a national title in Tae Kwon Do,
  • Who've owned their own karate school at the age of 16 
  • Who've galvanized a neighborhood to force the cleanup of a local toxic waste site;
  • Who've had their research published and presented at a conference in behavioral anthropology.
  • One of you has written and illustrated a children's book, creates 3-D sidewalk art, and rides a unicycle. 
  • More than one of you are pilots, and one of you is one of very small number of teenage helicopter pilots in the country. 
  • Among you is a professional model, Alzheimer's awareness advocate, and actress who appeared in the movie Little Miss Sunshine
  • You include a child soloist with the Metropolitan Opera;
  • One of you has survived a life-threatening grizzly bear attack in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska.  After that, how hard can finals be?
  • One of you was so impressive in your Harvard interview that the interviewer sent us an unsolicited letter of support when you decided to apply Early Decision to Duke. 

Now, I can imagine some of you might wonder, after hearing all this, whether we might have made a mistake in admitting you.  So let me be very clear: we did not make a mistake.  We know that some of you come here from families of great privilege, and that others of you have had to watch every single penny.  What we looked for wasn't so much how much or how little you have -- it's how you played the hand you were dealt -- what did you do with the opportunities that were presented to you, and how you responded to the particular challenges you faced.  And in both cases, you passed with flying colors.  You all have made good things happen for yourself and for others.  Every one of you has earned your place here and we're proud to count you among our own. You are the most talented and most diverse class we've had, and my colleagues behind me will make you even better -- they will push you, challenge you, and support you; and in return you will make us, and you will make each other, better in return.

I'd like to conclude by reading a pair of tweets from the same individual -- the first was at 7:45 yesterday morning when he tweeted: Ahhh it's getting real!  I'm moving in today!; and -- at 2:42 this morning: "It is done." 

President Brodhead, I am so pleased to present to you, to the faculty, and to the community, a class that will make us look good and will make us proud -- the Duke Class of 2016. Thank you.