Hello class of 2024! My name is Tommy Hessel and I am both deeply humbled and incredibly excited to be here today as your student body president (albeit virtually). Firstly, congratulations on starting your Duke journey! I know everyone here has dedicated an incredible amount of time and effort into being where you are today. Welcome to the Duke family.
And when I say family, I do mean it. The peers, faculty, staff, alumni, and Durham community members you meet over these years will become the people you laugh with, study in Perkins with, cry with (sometimes in response to the studying), watch basketball with, eat in Marketplace with, and ultimately discover yourself with. As our previous student government advisor, Gerald Harris, always reminded us, “Life moves at the speed of relationships.” So I encourage everyone to grow with the support from this family around you, amidst all the changes this year has in store.
In this short time today, I want to offer a guiding piece of advice that has helped me grow throughout Duke: self-discovery requires active exploration. At face value, this simply means you won’t find anything if you don’t look. But beyond that, actively exploring means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Talking to new Blue Devils over Zoom, joining clubs, FLUNCHing professors, attending performances and showcases, and getting involved with local initiatives are all ways to actively explore Duke. Personally, I owe my course of studies to this exploration after deciding–on a whim–to attend Duke Energy Week as a first-year.
However, active exploration does not mean compromising on balance and who you are for others. As the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently said, “Do not twist yourself into shapes to please.” Everyone here should showcase what makes you, you and do not lose that along the way. Your identity is wholly your own and your exploration will bring out the best in you. Or as stated by the great thinker and jasmine tea maker Uncle Iroh, “it is time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions: who are you and what do you want.”
With our limited in-person interactions this year, it would be easy to remain content and not push your own boundaries. But you all are a part of the Duke family now. We continue to push our boundaries and pursue our dreams despite COVID, despite national policy, and despite all the world throws at us. We are a united community of passionate artists, activists, scientists, linguists, historians, innovators, Blue Devil Buddies, and many more dedicated to helping you manifest your potential. But only if you're willing to start exploring.
So, in a year marked with uncertainty and change, know that it will all work out if you just keep exploring. Class of 2024, I am beyond excited to welcome you to your Duke family.