Commencement 2007: Reflections and Recognitions

August 1, 2007
Out into the world: Members of the Class of 2007 celebrated individual and collective

Out into the world: Members of the Class of 2007 celebrated individual and collective accomplishments before embarking on the next chapter of their lives. Jon Gardiner

Never underestimate the impact that you can have on others "to literally make the world a better place," General Motors Chair and CEO Richard Wagoner told graduates and guests at Duke's 155th commencement ceremonies on May 13.

"In my experience, the really successful people are those who establish clear priorities in their lives, who understand that they can excel at only a handful of things at any one time and then go after that chosen handful of priorities with single-minded passion and enthusiasm."

Duke awarded more than 4,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees at the ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium. Honorary degrees were given to University of Virginia computer scientist and entrepreneur Anita Jones, South African church leader and Duke Divinity professor emeritus Peter Storey, Tony award-winning dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, and Florence Wald, founder of the American hospice movement.

President Richard H. Brodhead introduced Wagoner '75, a Duke parent and current member of the university's board of trustees, as someone who is respected worldwide for his personal character, as well as for his business and philanthropic activities, including extensive service to his alma mater.

Reflecting on what he was thinking when he graduated thirty-two years ago, Wagoner urged students not to over-plan their lives. "My advice is to be flexible, be open to everything the world has to offer, be global. You'll be amazed at what you can learn, and how you can contribute."

Student speaker David Schmidt '07 wove together a diverse array of his experiences at Duke that ranged from being a member of a student comedy troupe to volunteering in the community to serving as the Blue Devil mascot.

"Duke is the sum of its parts," he said, "and we have all played different roles as ambassadors of our university. Whether it is on the floor in Cameron or at Carter Elementary, volunteering in Durham or in Tanzania, Duke is what it is because of all of us."