Undergraduate Convocation 2025: Uncertainty and Failure Is Part of the Learning Process

The Class of 2025 sings the alma mater at the conclusion of the undergraduate convocation Wednesday on Abele Quad.
The Class of 2025 sings the alma mater at the conclusion of the undergraduate convocation Wednesday on Abele Quad.

Duke President Vincent Price and other campus leaders welcomed the Class of 2025 to campus Wednesday by challenging the new students to embrace uncertainty, confusion and even failure.

It is, they said, all part of the learning process.

Price and others addressed students during Undergraduate Convocation Wednesday on Abele Quad.

Graduate and professional students also gathered together Wednesday afternoon for their convocation, including an address from Fuqua School Dean Bill Boulding.

The entire undergraduate ceremony can be seen below. Here are excerpts:

President Vincent Price

Duke University President Vincent Price addresses the Class of 2025 during Convocation for New Undergraduate Students on Abele Quad.  

“I’ll wager that today, as you settle into new dorms and prepare to say farewell to these lovely families, all of you are feeling a fair amount of uncertainty. And that is unsettling, even scary. Today, I want to encourage you to embrace the deep uncertainty of this moment, to allow yourself to experience the confusion of life in a new place.

“No matter how sure your path has been in arriving here, you will face challenges on the road ahead—the challenges of living away from home, of learning class schedules, of the academic expectations of a challenging curriculum, and of forming so many new relationships. There will be fits and starts, leaps and falls. When we’re used to being sure-footed, a stumble or a fall can be startling and frightening.  But that’s to be expected, even welcomed, since that’s how our agility and our balance improves.

“Uncertainty is a necessary part of the deep learning process; but after struggling to make sense of it, you will find that the new idea, they surely do fall into place.  And I’ll wager that you’ll come to enjoy that struggle and that confusion—perhaps as you’ve come to enjoy vigorous exercise—when you see the fruits of your labor. As you resolve your confusions, you will learn and discover, and do great things.

“At the same time, we can be open to recognizing that we may not have all the answers—that there is in fact a chance that we may be wrong. Wrong about the facts of the matter, and wrong about what to do. We hold some truths to be self-evident. Most are not.”
-- Vincent E. Price

“If we honestly admit to our uncertainty, then we can open, in two ways.  We can be open to serving the unheard and the underserved, listening carefully to those voices that are too often ignored, with an abiding concern for justice for the overlooked.  And at the same time, we can be open to recognizing that we may not have all the answers—that there is in fact a chance that we may be wrong.  Wrong about the facts of the matter, and wrong about what to do.  We hold some truths to be self-evident.  Most are not.

Duke University President Vincent Price addresses the Class of 2025 during Convocation for New Undergraduate Students on Abele Quad.  

“We must have the humility to embrace uncertainty, to explore modes of inquiry that might confuse or unsettle us, with the faith that a new and improved understanding lies ahead. That is, ultimately, our core mission as an institution of higher learning, one in which we now invite you to take part.

“It won’t always be easy, but it will be exhilarating.  At times, maybe a little too exhilarating. And so I will offer you one key piece of advice: Get. Some. Sleep.  The best exercise routine has to include recovery time.  And a brain at rest learns best.”

 

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions

Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, presents the Class of 2025 during Convocation for New Undergraduate Students on Abele Quad.  

“One of the things we look for is people who care about a sense of community, and who treat other people well, and we were struck by how hard you worked to stay connected to your communities when it was not easy to do so, and how often you created new communities, when it was the right thing to do, and when it was needed. So you belong here; you earned your place here and you deserve to be here.

“I’m going to suggest that whatever your plans are, do one thing LESS. Do one thing less. Leave room for a chance encounter, or to get so absorbed in something that you lose track of time. Allow for a longer conversation with someone who’s a little different; or give yourself the chance to make more of a commitment to something new that captures your interest. The chance to engage deeply with something unexpected is right in front of you all the time here at Duke, and doing one thing less will give you that chance to have that special Duke experience. And we know that you are prepared for it.”

 

Christina Wang, student body president

Christina Wang, Duke Student Government President welcomes the Class of 2025 during Convocation for New Undergraduate Students on Abele Quad.  

“It’s easy to feel out of place. You may feel pressure to constantly succeed. To be picture perfect in order to make it.

“My life at Duke wouldn’t be complete without trying random things and failing a little or a lot. So don’t be afraid of it.

“I hope you each find new spaces to challenge yourselves in. I hope you deliberately seek them out, because you never know what you might accomplish.”