Students graduating from Duke will face global challenges similar in importance and magnitude to those that African Americans overcame decades ago during the civil-rights movement in the U.S., Chile's president told graduates and guests at the university's commencement exercises on May 15.
In his address, Ricardo Lagos A.M. '63, Ph.D. '66 recalled encountering segregated restrooms in the Raleigh-Durham Airport in 1961 when he came to Duke to study economics. Americans, he said, are "rightfully proud" about having overcome segregation, but now face similar challenges in enhancing justice and the rule of law in an international context.
"If there are no rules, then it will be the rules of the most powerful," he said, adding that Chile, the U.S., and others must continue working together to strengthen trade relationships and international law. He issued a challenge to graduates and their guests: Assuming that "globalization is here to stay," he said, "how can we make sure that our world will be a better world?"
Duke awarded more than 3,800 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees at the morning ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium. It was Duke's 153rd commencement and the first presided over by President Richard H. Brodhead. Brodhead told the graduates that their degrees in various disciplines indicated the "human needs you are now armed to address" and called on them to emulate the accomplishments of the honorary-degree recipients.
Lagos, whom Brodhead introduced as "a profile in courage" for his resistance to the regime of Augusto Pinochet, was among five recipients of honorary degrees. The others were Natural Resources Defense Council founder John H. Adams LL.B. '62 ("for promoting the environmental agenda worldwide, and for pushing the movement to stress long-term solutions such as recycling, energy efficiency, and pollution prevention," Brodhead said); Nobel laureate, Cornell University chemistry professor, and playwright-poet Roald Hoffmann ("for his outstanding work as a scientist, his contributions as a popularizer of science, and his exuberance as an educator"); University of Maryland at Baltimore County president Freeman A. Hrabowski III ("As a result of Dr. Hrabowski's guidance, UMBC is among the nation's leaders in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded to African-American students in the life sciences and in computer and information science"); and humanitarian and former leader of Ireland Mary Robinson ("As president, she strengthened Ireland's economic, political, and cultural links with other countries and cultures. As U.N. high commissioner for human rights, she argued vigorously that economic and social rights were basic human rights").
Dressed in traditional caps and gowns, the graduates waved at and, in some cases, chatted by cell phone with their families and friends in the stadium, who in turn juggled their cameras, water bottles, and programs and cheered as the degrees were awarded. Rob Painter, the student speaker, joked about his reluctance to leave the university, saying he had wanted to cling to the bronze statue of Benjamin N. Duke on East Campus before realizing there are "only two kinds of people who can remain at Duke forever: one, brass [sic] tobacco magnates and; two, Coach K." Painter, a Chapel Hill native active in theater and performance groups, said that graduation is "a scary prospect, but it's also exciting." He urged his fellow graduates to help others and to "give yourself over to your passion."