A Commencement of Connections

Gates’ advice: “Make a difference in the world."

More than 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students were awarded their degrees during Duke’s 161st commencement in May.

The commencement address was delivered by Melinda Gates ’86, M.B.A. ’87, who implored students to use technology as a tool to build relationships with others around the world. “Humanity in the abstract will never inspire you in the same way as human beings you meet,” she told those gathered in Wallace Wade Stadium. “I want you to connect because I believe it will inspire you to do something, to make a difference in the world.” 

Earlier, in his baccalaureate address, President Richard H. Brodhead emphasized similar themes: “Time to break out of this known, loved world before it becomes a limit to you,” said Brodhead. “Break out, and you can make new connections with new chances to learn and grow.”

Gates, a former Duke trustee and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was awarded an honorary degree during the ceremony. Other recipients of honorary degrees were celebrated human-rights activist Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse; immune-system researcher and Emory University School of Medicine professor Max Cooper; archivist of the U.S. and former university librarian and vice provost for library affairs at Duke David S. Ferriero; Harvard professor of African-American history and literature and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research Henry Louis Gates Jr.; cofounder, managing director, and co-CIO of Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) William H. “Bill” Gross ’66; and choreographer and former artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Judith Jameson.

One novelty of this year’s ceremony was the presence of Duke’s most senior senior, Robert Becker. The eighty-year-old member of the Class of 2013 arrived on campus in the early 1950s but after four years left two courses shy of a degree. After careers in the military and airline industry, Becker returned to Duke in January to finish up; after taking courses in logic and religion, he received a bachelor of arts degree with a major in political science.

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