On a rainy Sunday morning on which umbrellas were more obvious than mortarboards, writer Barbara Kingsolver urged Duke graduates to reject the current paradigm of success and to turn to a more sustainable, community-oriented lifestyle.
"Imagine it: We raised you on a lie," Kingsolver told the graduates. "Everything you plug in, turn on, or drive; the out-of-season foods you eat; the music in your ears. We gave you this world and promised you could keep it running on a fossil substance—dinosaur slime—and it's running out."
Duke awarded more than 4,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees during a chilly, drizzly morning ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium. It was the university's 156th commencement.
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead awarded honorary degrees to author Wendell Berry, who is known for expressing his respect for the land, love of community, and the importance of human stewardship of creation in his essays, poems, and novels; public-health leader Helene Gayle, CEO and president of CARE, the first woman and the first person of color to lead the international poverty-fighting organization; broadcast executive James Goodmon, who, as president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company in Raleigh, has campaigned nationally against media consolidation to ensure that local voices are heard; judge Patricia Wald, who serves on the boards of directors of the Open Society Justice Initiative, the American Constitution Society, and the Council of the American Law Institute and was the first woman on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, from 1979 to 1999; and Kingsolver, whose most recent book, written with her daughter, Camille, a Duke student, and husband, Steven L. Hopp, is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. It chronicles the family's commitment to eat only food produced by themselves and their neighbors in southwestern Virginia.
Before Kingsolver's address, student speakers Matt Zafirovski '08 and Kyle Knight '08, who have been friends since they were freshman roommates, took turns delivering a humorous, back-and-forth speech. They joked about life on campus, and Zafirovski recalled the day all freshmen received free iPods.
Knight, who had grown up in a tiny town in Maine and didn't even own a cell phone, announced that he had no idea how to use his new device. "I tried not to laugh at the time; I just plugged it into his computer and programmed iTunes," Zafirovski said. "I wondered whether Kyle was playing a joke on me. Sometimes I still do."
Taking a more serious turn, the pair urged their fellow graduates to seek more out of life than career advancement.
"We are an ambitious and driven group," they said, "and we should be proud of our audacious goals. But our success will also be defined by how well we maintain a healthy perspective on our work, by how well we build relationships through support and generosity, and by how well we remain present and aware as we grow and change."