Distinguished Alumni Award: Blake Byrne
Established in 1983, the Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest award given by the Duke Alumni Association. It is presented to alumni who have made significant contributions in their own fields, in service to the university, or for the betterment of humanity. From nominations made by the Duke community, the Duke Alumni Association has selected Blake Byrne, Class of 1957, as the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.
Blake is a powerful figure in the communications industry who had a second passion and, in effect, a second career as a lover of visual arts. A connoisseur and influential collector of contemporary work, he is known for his keen eye, which led him to acquire works by Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, Claes Oldenburg -- as well as many up-and-coming artists.
Blake brought his love of art and love of Duke together as the founding chair of the national advisory board for the Nasher Museum of Art. In this role for eight years, he has been a remarkable force in helping to shape the mission and the future of the museum. And some of the Nasher's striking contemporary works represent contributions from Blake's collection -- 37 of them given on the occasion of his 50th reunion at Duke.
When Blake was a student, the world had a narrower notion of sexual orientation and identity; today, Duke and the world have become far more welcoming of the whole human family. As an alumnus, Blake has been a leader in this journey, from speaking at the Lavender Graduation to establishing a scholarship for an LGBT student from the Carolinas.
Today, we are pleased to present Blake Byrne, this visionary in the visual arts, with the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award: Mohamed Noor
Presented each year by the Duke Alumni Association, the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award is administered by a panel of undergraduate students, who select the recipient based on nominations submitted by students. This year's recipient is the Earl D. McLean Jr. Professor and chair of biology, Mohamed Noor.
Professor Noor's research in genetics and evolution has been honored with the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London. This award, which recognizes "major advances in evolutionary biology," has been given only once every 50 years. Hearing that, you might forgive Professor Noor for retreating to his research for the next 50 years – but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a scientist who lives to share his knowledge; he radiates human curiosity and the pleasure of passing it on. An expert in genetic and evolutionary process of species formation, Professor Noor is celebrated as a captivating lecturer and an innovative teacher. A pioneer in Duke's initiatives in online education, Professor Noor has designed online course as a sphere for experimentation, bringing new insights back to his classroom on campus. Professor Noor takes a genuine interest in the lives of his students and fosters a true classroom community -- even though that classroom might contain more than four hundred students -- or thousands spread around the globe.
For infusing his teaching with the passion of discovery, I am pleased to recognize Mohamed Noor with the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award.
University Medal: Gerald Wilson
A university is an institution, but it's one that is created anew each day by the quality of human interactions. Duke has been fortunate to have Gerald Wilson breathe life into its human interactions for the last half-century. He came to Duke in 1958 to study at the divinity school, and the next year, he joined the administration as assistant housemaster -- a kind of resident advisor. His responsibilities grew, and after completing his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 1980s, he added the teaching of history to his expanding portfolio.
With what a colleague describes as a brilliant mind, a huge heart, and a warm soul, Gerald has touched many students' lives as a pre-law advisor, dean, teacher, preacher, and friend. He teaches his legendary "American Dreams, American Realities" course to packed classrooms. He patiently shepherds more than three hundred students and alumni each year through the daunting process of applying to law school. As associate university marshal, he helps sustain and renew the traditions of university events ranging from presidential inaugurations to graduations and Founders' Days.
"I absolutely, positively love the students," Gerald has said. As students over the decades would testify, the feeling is mutual. When Duke alumni are asked to recall someone who took time and trouble over them when they were undergraduates, they remember Dean Wilson. And they pay him the ultimate compliment: they ask Dean Wilson, who is also an ordained Presbyterian minister, to officiate at their weddings and later at the baptisms of their children.
Today, we are pleased to recognize Gerald Wilson as someone who embodies the best character of this university, and to award him the University Medal.
University Medal: Dan Blue
A longtime leader in the state legislature, Dan Blue has acquired the reputation for being thoughtful, knowledgeable, pragmatic, and fair. As one colleague described him, 'People just have confidence he'll do the right thing." In 1991, he was elected Speaker of the North Carolina House -- the first African American to hold that position.
Dan is a North Carolinian through and through. He plowed the tobacco fields of his parents' farm with a book in one hand, shoveled coal to warm the three-room country school he attended, and marched for civil rights in Durham during the 1960s. He earned an undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University and graduated from Duke Law in 1973. He was first elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1980 and now serves as a state senator.
In 1995, this model citizen took on a new leadership role as a Duke trustee. For sixteen years, he made himself available for any tough assignment, helping the Board think through difficult issues to a clear, sensible solution. As Chair of the Board from 2009 to 2011, he listened to all views and brought all participants together for consensus on wise decisions. Some years ago, he told Duke Magazine, "You have to be influenced somehow or other by having to go to the back door of a five-and-dime. You're left with a feeling of inclusiveness in whatever you do, in that you judge people on their ability to contribute."
Today, we salute Dan Blue as someone who has contributed immeasurably to our state and our University, and we proudly award him the University Medal.
Pictured below, University Medal recipient Gerald Wilson, Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Blake Byrne, and University Medal recipient Dan Blue talk with President Richard Brodhead following the Founders' Day ceremony. Photo by Duke University Photography