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Alumni Look Back on Their Duke Experience to Offer Advice to the Class of 2021

Duke Magazine campaign collects short 'commencement speeches' for graduates

campus beauty shot with text #DukeWisdom

Vikas Patel ’96, M.D.’00 spent more than a decade getting an education at Duke—first as an undergraduate double-majoring in biology and religion, then as medical student and finally as a resident.

Looking back, his Duke education helped him succeed and get to where he is today, he says, but he perhaps gained something even more important.

“The wonderful friendships that I made during my time at Duke,” he says. “My friends to this day are like family.”

That was the wisdom Patel shared with Duke’s newest class of graduates ahead of Sunday’s 2021 commencement exercises. As part of a Duke Magazine and a and @DukeAlumni social media campaign to gather inspiration as graduates began their Forever Duke journey off campus, alumni like Patel were asked to share their 50-word-or-fewer “commencement speech” with the Class of 2021.

Their responses covered what to do next (“Pursue your passion,” wrote Sandy McMahon MBA '82 from Placitas, N.M.), whom to reach out to (“Duke alumni are everywhere…All you have to do is ask!” wrote Rebecca Feinglos Planchard ’11 from Cary), and what to look forward to (“Today is not the last day but the start of a whole new Blue Devil journey,” wrote Naseebullah Esmaty LLM '20 from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Page Murray ’85, of Los Gatos, Calif., who now works as the chief marketing officer of the Stanford Alumni Association, began his advice with a singular word: “Fail,” he wrote.

That is something that is “hard for Duke people to hear,” Murray said, but it is nonetheless important because “failing makes you the person who continues the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and mastery that you started four years ago.”

Several respondents asked their new fellow alumni to remember the responsibility they carry as Duke graduates—to take all they have learned at Duke and do their part to contribute to a better world, to be willing to help others, to take time for introspection and to learn from it.

Ron Nelson ’52, of Monterey, Mass., sent an email to Duke Magazine with his words of wisdom learned over the course of his 91 years: “Constant awareness of your thinking, your speech and actions, how others are responding, will make you realize that kindness and love are the most precious things you can bestow on yourself and the world.”

Read more messages from Duke alumni by visiting the #DukeWisdom2021 webpage.