Commencement: Looking Outward

 


Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Johannesburg bureau chief for the Cable News Network (CNN), urged Duke’s graduating class to enter the world not with made-up minds, but open to new ideas and cultures that will allow them to become good citizens in the global community.
More than 3,500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees were awarded at the annual commencement ceremony before a crowd of more than 15,000 on a sunny, breezy Mother’s Day morning, May 13, at Wallace Wade football stadium. Hunter-Gault was one of three to receive honorary degrees, a doctor of humane letters. In the citation, President Nannerl O. Keohane called her someone who—in the realm of civil rights and reporting alike—has “persisted in your pioneering ways.”

Patrick Williams ’61, an Emmy and Grammy award winner who has composed hundreds of scores for feature films and television, received an honorary doctor of fine arts (“Your career has been on a fast track—which is only appropriate for one of the creative forces behind the Hollywood classic Breaking Away”). David Gergen, a journalist and presidential adviser who teaches at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and is co-director of its Center for Public Leadership, received an honorary doctor of humane letters (“Having been a trusted consultant and valued adviser to four presidents from two political parties, you know a lot about adversity and character—as well as the elements of political success”). Gergen formerly taught at Duke’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy; his father was a professor of mathematics at Duke
for four decades and longtime department chair.
“As you move out from this place to your space in a century that is new, you have the unique opportunity to help shape it and establish its legacy,” Hunter-Gault told the Class of 2001. “My wish for you as you confront that challenge is that you will do so by traveling...outside of your comfort zones, creating new maps in your mind that hold out the possibility of navigating roads not traveled, new ways to approach old problems that have so far led only to dead ends.”
Hunter-Gault joined CNN in April 1999 after working as National Public Radio’s chief correspondent in Africa, and earlier with the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. She warned her audience not to rely solely on what they see on television when drawing conclusions about the world. Africa is portrayed “as an uncomfortable place of conflict, death, and dying,” she said. “You see the wars and the warriors, but rarely the war weary who want no part of it. You see the disease, death, and dying, but rarely the heroes…. You see Africans with their begging bowls, but never those who are trying to do things for themselves. You see coups, but never those nation-states that are struggling, let alone succeeding, in nurturing the roots of their newly democratic cultures.”
As a reporter, she’s been frustrated to find that “no one is listening to anyone who has a different point of view, let alone being informed by the multitude of different experiences that brought each to his or her present position,” she said. “And while the problem as it was understood during twentieth-century America particularly resided largely in race and racial difference, in the larger world it had various expressions, but boiled down to its essence, the issue was difference.”
“There is a wonderful world awaiting you,” she told the graduates, “a world of dynamic and different cultures and creatures that have much to share, provided judgments are made not on fear.”


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