Duke grads: Make it matter
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked Duke University graduates to make their lives and their degrees matter during his commencement address Sunday.
More than 14,000 people gathered Mother’s Day morning to watch more than 5,100 Duke graduates receive undergraduate, master’s and professional degrees during the university’s commencement ceremony.
Family, friends and supporters filed into Wallace Wade Stadium to witness the ceremony.
In the invocation, Dean of Duke Chapel Luke A. Powery reminded the students that they were “not alone on their education pilgrimage” but were surrounded by people who offered ongoing encouragement and support.
Dempsey, a West Point and Duke alumnus, told the crowd that he shared in the students’ excitement and joy at this milestone in their lives.
“There were times when I didn’t think I’d make it at Duke but instinctively I knew I had to keep trying and I had to keep learning,” he said. “I’m very proud of my Duke education.”
Dempsey asked the students to keep an eye on the world and to use their talents to help not only themselves but the world around them.
“You’ll need to find, fix and remain true to your moral compass,” he said. “After four years of hard work, you’ve crossed your academic goal line but what’s in your heart?
“You’re all going to lead something,” Dempsey said. “I know your resume. What’s in your heart? America needs each and every one of you.”
In closing Dempsey passed on encouragement and shared pride.
“I hope you believe in yourselves as much as us sitting up here and out there,” he said. “I hope you believe in action over admiration.
“We need leaders of confidence,” Dempsey said. “You’ve been given the gift of education. Make it matter.”
One of the students who has been making it matter is Jennifer Lenore Sherman, a cultural anthropology major who gave the student remarks.
“I’m going to trust you with the truth today,” she said. “I am afraid. Of speaking in front of all of you and of leaving this place. Of not knowing what this next chapter is going to look like.”
Reflecting on her time at Duke, Sherman said that the university that many of them saw as a dream has led to their celebration of excellence and education.
“We have learned from ordinary and extraordinary moments but I think the ordinary ones were more important,” she said. “Duke has taught me that there is nothing in the range of human experience that is off limits to me.
“I hope we will be grateful for our two educations, the one that helped us earn our degrees and the one that taught us to be human.”
The university also conferred five honorary degrees. The recipients were:
• Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, chemistry and molecular and cell biology professor at the University of California Berkeley,
• Erskine Bowles, former president of the UNC system and co-author of the Simpson-Bowles plan to balance the federal budget in five years,
• Dr. Susan Hockfield, professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
• Walter S. Isaacson, former chairman and CEO of CNN and author of the book “Steve Jobs,”
• Dr. W. Delano Meriwether, first African-American accepted into Duke’s medical school and founder of the Meriwether Foundation, which operates programs in Africa focusing on health, agriculture and economics.
Dempsey was offered an honorary degree but declined.