When Andrew Barnhill speaks from a podium, it's hard to tell whether he sounds more like a preacher or an attorney, which is appropriate for someone who focused on religion and American law while pursuing a master's degree at Duke Divinity School.
Barnhill's fellow graduates and others attending Duke University's 161st Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 11, can judge for themselves. A campus committee has selected him to deliver the student speech at the ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium. Philanthropist and businesswoman Melinda Gates will deliver the main commencement address.
Barnhill plans to urge his fellow graduates to pause and savor "sacred moments" they have experienced at Duke and can now anticipate after graduation. Those moments are often unexpected, he says, citing a sunrise in Peru, an elephant ride in India and a conversation on the U.S. Senate floor as experiences he and other students cherish from their years at Duke.
"Sometimes the moments are filled with laughter and sometimes they hit us with a sense of awe," he says. "Through each of them, we are challenged to find our vocations in the crevice of Duke's identity as a place of innovation and a space of sacred leadership."
Barnhill's experiences at Duke have been unusually broad, reaching beyond the Divinity School to extensive interactions with Duke undergraduates. He has been a graduate resident on Central Campus, a leader with recruitment programs for the undergraduate admissions office and a member of the undergraduate student affairs committee of the board of trustees.
A native of Wilmington, Barnhill plans to continue his graduate work in law and public policy after graduation. He also will continue in his role as chair of the Young Democrats of North Carolina for the state's 7th Congressional District. He served for a year in Washington, D.C., as a legislative intern for the district's congressman, Rep. Mike McIntyre, and also was an intern for Ridge Road Baptist Church in Raleigh.
Calling his selection "a great honor," Barnhill looks forward to reflecting at commencement on how Duke changed the lives of both undergraduate and graduate students. "For each of us, this place looked different on day one than it looks today," he says. "It looked like outrageous ambitions, but I also hope that today it looks like a place of sacred moments."
Details about Duke's Commencement are available at http://web.duke.edu/commencement.