Seniors Into the World

Portraits of six of Duke’s newest graduates, from a young scholar of computational genomics to a multimedia artist

You remember it, don’t you? That exhilarated, exhausted, can’t-believe-it’s-over feeling you had when you realized your undergraduate college experience was drawing to a close. One last paper completed. The final exam submitted. Donning the standard-issue graduation gown and mortarboard, lining up for commencement ceremonies, seeing the faces of people you’ve known since those hot August days of campus move-in only four short years—a lifetime—ago.

The more than 1,500 members of the Class of 2011 are off to graduate and professional school, Teach For America and the Peace Corps, Wall Street and Washington. They have been shaped by their individual campus
experiences—a scintillating elective that prompted a change in major, the DukeEngage summer that sparked an interest in global health—and by the impact of world events—the economic meltdown of 2008, natural disasters and political unrest, the breakneck pace of technological innovations.

William Wright-Swadel, the Fannie Mitchell Executive Director of the Duke Career Center, says today’s college graduates see the next phase of their lives as transitional and unpredictable, rather than prescriptive and linear. “So many jobs that our students will do in their lifetimes haven’t been invented yet,” he says. “They tend to think in timeframes of one or two years. They want opportunities where they can exercise their broad range of skills and interests, but also to see how that first postgraduate experience informs what they will do next. There’s a degree of intensity around self-exploration and reflection that is very intentional.”

Here’s a look at six of the university’s newest alumni and what lies ahead.

Nick Altemose

Chris Hildreth

Nick Altemose

Temecula, California
Major: Biology
Minor: Computational Biology and Bioinformatics

As a freshman, Nick Altemose sought advice from Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy director Huntington Willard on how to pursue a burgeoning interest in genomics. Despite Altemose’s lack of lab experience, Willard immediately welcomed the young man into his office, eventually becoming Altemose’s mentor and academic adviser. Four years later, Altemose readies to begin graduate work in computational genomics at the University of Oxford as a Marshall Scholar this fall.

An Angier B. Duke Scholar who served on the LGBT center advisory board, Altemose is already wistful about what he’s leaving behind. “It’s the spirit of mixing revelry with those late-night conversations that define who you are; it’s the feeling you get day in and day out that you’re at the cutting edge of the world.”

Altemose says that whether it’s considering the ethical implications of genetics research or the demands presented by global development, finding a balance between individualism and the collective good is one of the biggest challenges he and his peers face. “Our generation needs effective and cohesive government along with a shift in public attitudes across the globe so that we may appropriately sacrifice our short-term individual wants for the long-term needs of humanity.”


Nick Altemose

Chris Hildreth

Allie Speidel

Syracuse, New York
Major: Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry

Allie Speidel had so many demands on her time as a student—as a member of the varsity swim team, a biomedical engineering student, a Baldwin Scholar—that she never got an opportunity to study abroad. In fact, she’s never been outside of the U.S. But she’ll get her passport stamped for the first time when she heads to Imperial College in London this fall as a Marshall Scholar. After that, she plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. with the goal of becoming a physician-scientist specializing in regenerative tissue therapies for the heart.

Speidel says she and her friends have a realistic understanding of the challenges that lie ahead, particularly as it relates to their entering the still-turbulent waters of the post-recession economy. “We’re not so much worried about it as we are aware of it,” she says. “It has shaped the fields we are going into, the jobs people have applied for, and the timeline people have for furthering their education. It’s not something you can control. All you can do is prepare with an open mind and remain flexible.”

Bryan Morgan

Chris Hildreth



Bryan Morgan
Hoover, Alabama
Major: Music
Certificate: Early Childhood Studies

Bryan Morgan was a formidable force on the football field, anchoring Duke’s offensive line as center for three straight years in the starting lineup. But Morgan’s innate sense of timing and rhythm, along with disciplined practice, serves him well in other arenas. Ever since he sang in the church choir as a child, Morgan has loved music. He started playing clarinet in the fifth grade, wrote his first song at the age of thirteen, and wrote a symphony before he graduated from high school. In addition to wearing jersey number 62 for the Blue Devils, he played clarinet in the Duke Wind Symphony.

Morgan credits associate professor of the practice Anthony Kelley ’87, A.M. ’90 for refining his understanding and appreciation of musical forms. “I was so blessed to be in three of his music classes. I soaked up as much information from him as I could,” says Morgan. “He really pushes you in your intellectual learning, and it’s tough. He does it because he loves his students and he loves what he does. He wants
to see us grow as musicians.”

Morgan will stay in Durham after graduating to take courses toward earning his elementary-education teaching license, while composing music and pursuing additional music-related training in his spare time. His long-range plans are to attend graduate school in music education, instrumental conducting, or music composition and eventually land a job as a music teacher or a band or orchestra director.

Cheney Tsai

Chris Hildreth

Cheney Tsai

Houston, Texas
Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science
Minor: Visual Arts

Engineering student Cheney Tsai signed up for a sculpture class his freshman year to counterbalance the intensity of the Pratt School curriculum. What started as a lark became something more, leading Tsai to minor in visual arts and view his science-based coursework with a newfound perspective.

“Engineering classes have a tendency to lock you in to certain methods, techniques, and nitty-gritty details,” he says. “But modern sculpture and other art classes allowed me to really see past that and appreciate the essence of design in every single element.”

At Duke, Tsai was a member of the Duke Innovative Design Agency, a student-staffed organization sponsored by the Office of Student Activities and Facilities, which offers branding and marketing support to student organizations. Tsai’s contributions included suggesting innovative advertising pitches for Duke University Union events, recommending sustainability measures for the Duke Smart Home Project, and helping redesign the Chronicle website. He was also the publicity chair for Engineers Without Borders.

In July, he starts working at Deloitte LLP as an analytic and forensic technology consultant—examining large amounts of data to inform commercial investigations and complex litigation—with an eye toward launching his own technology startup in the not-too-distant future.


Lysandra Lestini

Chris Hildreth

Lysandra Lestini
Raleigh, North Carolina
Major: Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Minor: Chemistry

Ten years from now, if all goes according to plan, Lysandra Lestini will have a thriving dental practice—perhaps with her sister, Shanley Lestini ’09—and be married and raising a family. She will have strong ties to a faith community. And she will be painting portraits on commission, using techniques she learned at Charles Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy, during a month-long summer course between her junior and senior year.

Lestini says her most transformational undergraduate experiences were her medieval history courses with adjunct professor Mary Jane Morrow ’80, Ph.D. ’99 and an independent research project with pediatric dentist Martha Ann Keels ’79 to investigate oral-health risks among children with autism-spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and congenital heart defects. She will begin classes at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry this fall.

Asked what she will miss the most about her time at Duke, she cites the deep relationships she formed with people she met through the interdenominational ministry Campus Crusade for Christ, “who have shown me unconditional love. That is a rare and special gift.”



Sarah Goetz

Chris Hildreth

Sarah Goetz

Charlotte, North Carolina
Major: Art, Art History & Visual Studies
Certificates: Arts of the Moving Image and Documentary Studies

What does it mean to be a young artist in the twenty-first century? For Sarah Goetz, it requires new conversations about creativity that combine historical precedent, contemporary perspectives, and methodological experimentation. Goetz is a printmaker, graphic designer, filmmaker, photographer, and sculptor. She’s equally drawn to the tactile reward of sewing costumes for theater department productions and creating mixed-media installations for public spaces (as she has in the Mary Duke Biddle Music Building and Perkins-Bostock Library) and to designing and programming a virtual-reality piece for the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DIVE).

“I think the major problem of our generation will be learning to place our skills and our selves in an age of mass distribution of information and computer-aided everything,” she says. Goetz says she plans to pursue a master’s of fine arts in multimedia installation art and film and have her work displayed in international art galleries.

“I will find a way to survive and make art,” she says. “All else is unknown.”

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