Commencement: A Variety of Voices

Laryngitis kept U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan from addressing Duke graduates, but it didn't prevent the students from hearing Annan's message. President Nannerl O. Keohane read portions of Annan's speech at the May 11 ceremony, after the scheduled commencement speaker was forced to cancel his appearance.

" Issues that once seemed very far away are very much in your backyard," Annan wrote in his prepared remarks. "What happens in South America or Southern Africa--from democratic advances to deforestation to the fight against AIDS--can affect your lives here in North Carolina. And your choices here--what you buy, how you vote--can resound far away. As someone once said about water pollution, we all live downstream."

Undergraduate and advanced degrees were awarded to 3,189 May graduates--1,329 Trinity College, 174 Engineering, and 1,686 graduate and professional students--before a crowd of 18,000 in Wallace Wade Stadium.

Keohane awarded honorary degrees to Admiral Frank L. "Skip" Bowman '66, director of the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program ("You probably have the distinction of being the only Duke graduate to have circumnavigated the globe as commanding officer of an attack submarine and the only Duke graduate to hold a patent for a design that mitigates the effects of a nuclear-reactor breakdown."); Judy Chicago, a prominent artist, author, and feminist ("You have remained committed to artistic endeavor as a vehicle for intellectual growth and social change. You pioneered the idea of feminist art, aiming, as you have put it, to 'counter the erasure of women's achievements.'"); Richard D. Klausner M.D. '76, executive director of the global health program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and former director of the National Cancer Institute ("Worldwide, the numbers threatened by diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria are staggering. Yet you have projected an infectious optimism, tempered by an educated realism."); and Charles Reinhart, director of the American Dance Festival ("You have helped shape the ADF into an incubator of talent, commissioning hundreds of innovative new works, nurturing thousands of talented young dancers, and enhancing the public's appreciation of modern dance.").

Given Annan's unexpected absence, the honorary-degree recipients were invited to make brief remarks to the graduates. Bowman spoke of the valor of the Marines who fought in Iraq and advised the graduates to follow their example: "Live your lives not for yourselves or the benefits bestowed but for the common good." Klausner said that, in an age of AIDS, SARS, and bioterrorism, advances will only come from a commitment to "science practiced openly and freely in societies that value knowledge, that value and sustain openness and human dignity."

Chicago gave an impassioned commentary on the enduring importance of art. "Had the centrality of art been fully understood, our troops would have been instructed to guard the Baghdad Museum as well as or better than the Iraqi oil fields," she said. Formerly a visiting professor at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chicago also noted that she was "extremely surprised that, at a world-class institution like Duke University, the studio facilities, as well as the art program, were, to put it mildly, minimal at best."

Reinhart, in a brief presentation that brought an enthusiastic response from the graduates, recalled his third-grade experience with an Indian "rain dance." He called it an early demonstration, for him, of the power of dance--and then proceeded to recreate the dance on the speakers' platform. Despite overcast conditions, it never rained on the ceremony.

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor