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Class Day 2017: NBA, WNBA Leaders on the Value of Duke Connections

Part of the Commencement Stories, 2017 Series

When Duke Board of Trustee members Adam Silver and Lisa Borders first met, their connection centered on being Duke alumni, not basketball.

But that initial exchange over dinner at Duke President Richard Brodhead’s home a couple years ago led Silver ‘84, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, to offer Borders ’79 the job as commissioner of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

The two returned to campus this past Friday during Duke University Class Day to speak to graduating seniors about the power of the Duke connection.

During their keynote address to a packed crowd of members of the Class of 2017 in Page Auditorium, Borders and Silver recalled when they first met, Borders was vice president of global community affairs at The Coca-Cola Company. She peppered Silver with questions and critiques about the operations of the WNBA. Silver gave Borders his card and instructed her to call him Monday morning.

Borders said she was pretty busy that Monday morning and was surprised when Silver called her. After they talked, Silver continued calling Borders until she agreed to take on the role of WNBA president.

“I now have the privilege of leading a league that Adam wrote the business plan for 21 years ago. Somebody say ‘Amen’ because I got a good job out of that,” Borders said. “It is very cool that two Dukies get to run professional basketball.”

Silver and Borders told the graduates their Duke degree will open up opportunities they may not expect.           

“I know when I was in the same position you’re all in today, I was thinking my Duke experience was ending. It’s actually just beginning,” Silver said. “This university opens up such incredible doors to you throughout your life. So, I very much encourage you all to take advantage of it.”

Class Day is an annual event presented and organized by members of the Senior Class Council with support from the Duke Alumni Association.

As part of that same message encouraging the graduating class to create lifelong connections with fellow alumni after leaving campus, the Duke Alumni Association provided graduates with letters from alumni worldwide containing words of wisdom. 

Below: Students from the Class of 2017 hold their letters of advice from Duke alumni. Photo by Julie Schoonmaker

Below: Students from the Class of 2017 hold their letters of advice from Duke alumni. Photo by Julie Schoonmaker