Words for Grad and Professional Students: Enjoy the Bright Lights of Research -- and Those of Durham

As President of Duke University, I am delighted to welcome you to the official start of your first year as Duke graduate and professional students.

Since you’re graduate students, this is not your first convocation experience. Nor is it mine – not even today. This morning, I gave a very different speech to Duke’s new class of undergraduates. And though you both share a distinctly Duke curiosity and exceptional qualifications, I think I can go easier on the life advice this afternoon – particularly as it relates to navigating roommate squabbles.

We are gathered for this brief moment of celebration in Duke Chapel, where we mark the most joyful and reverent events as members of the Duke community. It is fitting, then, that you should start your Duke careers here, with the late-summer light pouring in through the stained glass windows – focused and refracted in kaleidoscopic diversity.

Today, you are not simply setting off on your graduate studies. You are joining a Duke family that is hundreds of thousands strong, made up of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and very many friends. You are also following those before you who have come here to have their intentions and perspectives focused and refracted into new ideas that have helped to make the world a better place.

That is our great promise as an institution and your great promise as graduate and professional students. 

“There are few times in your life when you will be surrounded by such astounding diversity of thought and perspectives, when you will have not only the license but the charge to explore new ideas.”

While you are at Duke, I hope you will take full advantage of the many wonderful opportunities this campus affords you. There are few times in your life when you will be surrounded by such astounding diversity of thought and perspectives, when you will have not only the license but the charge to explore new ideas.

Durham has so much to offer to you and your families as well.  I am confident that you will have a blast checking out the farmer’s market and restaurants downtown, taking in shows at DPAC and Motorco, and hiking along the Eno River.

At times like this, I can’t help but reflect on my own experience in graduate school.  I so treasured my undergraduate years that I wondered whether it could get any better.  Well, indeed it can.  I remember years later visiting the campus – a place we might call the Duke of the west – where my wife and I lived, this time touring around with our two kids in tow, then about six and eight years old.  We stopped in front of the small apartment where we lived for four years; and peering through a chain-link fence at our old building, my eight-year old daughter looked around intently and then said: “Wow, life must have been tough then!”&

In surprise, we looked around again, and we had to admit that our place on campus didlook a little bit like a tenement.  But we assured my daughter that, no, life wasn’t rough then.  We loved our time there; we loved every minute; we loved the thrill and the opportunity presented at that special time in our lives.  Our years on campus will forever seem as bright and hopeful as the dappled light through the eucalyptus trees, a light not unlike the stained glass glow here today.

“I hope you take the time now and again to enjoy the light streaming through this chapel, the beautiful dappled light filtered through the trees of Duke forest, and the lights of Durham on warm spring evenings.”

So as we embark on this academic year together, I have every hope and confidence you will similarly love your years, here in Durham.

I hope you embrace every moment of opportunity.

I hope you take the time now and again to enjoy the light streaming through this chapel, the beautiful dappled light filtered through the trees of Duke forest, and the lights of Durham on warm spring evenings.

I hope that, above all, you enjoy the very bright lights of research and advanced professional education at one of this nation’s great universities.

Welcome to the Duke community.  I am delighted by the light that you will bring to this campus and the world.