When David Morgenstern '08 found out, after his acceptance to Duke, that he was selected to be a Robertson Scholar, he didn't yet know the lasting impact it would have on his life.
Growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Morgenstern was surrounded by a community willing to have difficult conversations about social issues, ones he saw playing out regularly on the basketball court (where he was the only white player) and tennis court (where there were only one or two nonwhite players). Morgenstern brought his open mind to Duke, where he saw communities break down and come together over shades of black, white, and blue.
"Being a Robertson allowed me to continue finding and developing new communitie, both domestic and abroad," says Morgenstern of the full-tuition scholarship for Duke and UNC students, who take courses at both schools and spend a semester in residence at the other campus. In a way, Morgenstern's experiences foreshadowed today's civic-minded Blue Devils. He started with a "domestic-abroad" summer, living in rural Mississippi while working with a lawyer on preventing illegal home foreclosures just a few years before the housing bubble burst. The following summer brought him to a small school in Cape Town, South Africa, well before DukeEngage was on every student's to-do list.
The common thread for Morgenstern has always been his focus "on the fact that people are people." At Duke, he worked with Know Your Status, a free HIV-testing program, and was heavily involved with the Center for Race Relations, facilitating its annual Common Ground retreat for three years.
In the short time since graduating, Morgenstern has continued to make community engagement a priority both in and out of the workplace. At Gerson Lehrman Group in New York, Morgenstern cofounded the GLG Social Impact program, which identifies companies with social impact and provides pro bono financial consulting services. He volunteers with the Trevor Project, the national LGBT teen suicide prevention hotline, and recently joined the Duke New York Regional Board, serving on the budget committee and as liason to the university's LGBT alumni network.
"It's really interesting to see what Duke means to people at various stages in their careers," he says. "There are these really successful, smart people anywhere from five to thirty years out of school, and hearing how they take that Duke experience and apply it to life is fascinating."
With his five-year reunion approaching fast, Morgenstern will get a chance to see how the Duke experience has played out among his classmates. "I can't wait to see where everyone is," he says. "I think there will be a level of excitement that feels like our first day of freshman year, except that this time everyone won't be terrified."