From the desk of Sterly Wilder: Celebrating our founders

Sterly Wilder, senior associate vice president, engagement and development

Each fall, the university community gathers to celebrate the founding of Duke—members of the Duke family and the giants on whose shoulders we have stood, those men and women who helped make our university the extraordinary place it is today. Many of these names are on buildings, quads, classrooms, and iconic spaces. However, there are also many who have given their all to Duke through their service and commitment, the unsung heroes who make our campus beautiful every day, who take care of our students and facilities…the list goes on.

Founders Weekend is a time to celebrate our past, and each year we honor all of these men and women. For a young university—almost 100 (which is barely reaching teenager status for some of our peers)—we have come so far in large part due to the visionary leadership, commitment, and loyalty of all of our founders. Each fall, we celebrate during this special weekend on campus, and for a few important moments, the university stops to reflect on its past and enjoy its present, while looking ahead to the bright future and opportunities ahead.

This year’s Founders Weekend (September 23-26) was particularly special as we also celebrated the Class of 2020 commencement. For the first time in two years, we awarded University Medals, and we named the Sociology- Psychology Building in honor and memory of our beloved alumna, trustee, and friend, Wilhelmina Reuben- Cooke ’67.

For me, the weekend was quite emotional. To see our beloved campus alive again on a beautiful fall weekend and to celebrate what is great about this place we call home filled me with joy.

In the University Medals ceremony, we honored Peter Nicholas ’64, cofounder of global medical device company Boston Scientific Corporation, who, with his family, gave the naming gift for the Nicholas School of the Environment; Rick Wagoner ’75, former Duke trustee and former president of General Motors; and posthumously, Maryanne Black, former associate vice president for community relations for the Duke University Health System.

We also presented the Distinguished Alumni Award to Sue Gordon ’81, a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke and former principal deputy director of national intelligence; and the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award to public policy professor Bruce Jentleson.

The Friday afternoon ceremony to name Sociology-Psychology (or Soc-Psych, as we always called it) was an extraordinary celebration of the life of Wilhelmina Reuben- Cooke, but more important, for me and for many who knew her, it was a time to celebrate her leadership, her love for Duke, and what her life meant to so many. As one of the first five Black undergraduate students, she was the strength and the glue that held her classmates together. We also heard that she was the strength and the glue that held her family together, and that she exhibited these qualities in her work, her commitment to Duke and The Duke Endowment, and in everything she touched in her life.

While the Class of 2020 Commencement was long overdue (but much appreciated), the graduation ceremonies spoke to our present and future. The University Medalists and the Reuben-Cooke dedication spoke to our past. We often talk about the Duke family and its significant and life-changing contributions. But it is also the many who have followed in their steps, those whom we celebrate each fall, that reminds us of where we have been and how far we have come.

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor