In a Chronicle essay he wrote his senior year, Hardy Vieux ’93 encouraged his peers to take personal responsibility for changing the status quo. The subject of the essay was campus race relations, but Vieux’s call to action was universal in scope. “We are not entitled to anything we don’t work for ourselves,” he wrote. “No one on this campus (or in this world) is entitled to leadership, power, title, clout, or money unless they work for it.”
Vieux, the new president of the Duke Alumni Association (DAA), has long practiced what he preaches. As president of the student government, he helped restructure the existing organization, ASDU (Associated Students of Duke University), into a more effective and responsive governing body. As a lawyer with Blank Rome LLP in Washington, he augments his work on white-collar defense and complex civil trials with extensive pro bono work (earlier this year the District of Columbia Bar named him Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year). As a board member of the DAA’s Duke Club of Washington, he co-chairs the club’s Partners in Education initiative in local schools. And as a Haitian American who lost family members during last January’s earthquake, he flew to the island nation as a volunteer with Family Health Ministries (see Duke Magazine, May-June 2010).
During his two-year term as DAA president, which began July 1, Vieux will represent the interests of the university’s more than 138,000 alumni. In June, as he prepared for a trial taking place in Tampa, Florida, he took a few minutes to talk about how he came to Duke, his continuing involvement with the university, and his goals for his presidency.
Born in Brooklyn, Vieux spent his first five years living in Port-au Prince, Haiti, with his grandmother while his parents, both Haitian, acclimated to life in the U.S. Vieux’s father found work on the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Tarrytown, New York, but was laid off and became a taxicab driver in New York City. He used the opportunity to learn more about higher-education opportunities for his son by sizing up passengers and asking about their schooling.
“Whenever anyone who looked successful got into his cab, he would ask them where they had gone to college,” says Vieux. “And if they said Princeton or Harvard, he would say, okay, those must be good schools.” Over time, the names of certain schools kept coming up, producing a short list of top institutions—namely, those in the Ivy League. While his father was conducting field research on behalf of his son—who would become the first in the family to attend college—Vieux was participating in a leadership-development and college-preparatory program for select high-school juniors and seniors sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York. Vieux submitted applications to nearly all the Ivy League schools, as well as a handful of others that caught his eye—including Duke. After he was accepted, Vieux got a phone call from fellow New Yorker David Forde ’92, then a freshman, encouraging him to matriculate.
“I bought a ticket to Durham, found my way to the Bryan Center information desk, and called David,” Vieux recalls. “He didn’t know I was going to show up, but he immediately agreed to show me around campus, let me stay in his dorm room, and introduced me to other students. I thought, if this is the way Duke operates, I want to come here.”
Vieux made the most of his time at Duke, pledging Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, joining the Black Student Alliance, and serving as a resident adviser, in addition to holding down the student-government presidency. After graduating with a major in public policy, he earned his J.D. and M.P.P. degrees at the University of Michigan.
He served as a criminal appellate defense counsel for the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, arguing on issues such as Fourth Amendment search and seizure. He joined Blank Rome in 2007. Despite juggling a hectic professional schedule, Vieux has stayed connected to his alma mater, primarily through the Washington club. In 2004, he was elected to the DAA board of directors; he became president- elect in 2009.
“Duke has never been something else I needed to fit into my schedule,” he says. Rather, “it has been a natural extension of my personal and professional life.” Vieux says his top priority as president is “keeping people connected to the university. Whether that’s a Duke Alums Engage project in the local community or a campus program like last February’s ‘Money Sex & Power’ alumnae weekend, we want to provide multiple outlets for people to continue the intellectual and civic-engagement experiences they had at Duke,” he says. “Those initiatives are in addition to the more traditional programs like reunions and homecoming, so that we are offering a full menu of options.
“Second, I also want to ensure that the alumni association stays relevant and responsive to the needs and wishes of our sure we are providing programs and benefits that people actually find worthwhile.” As part of his presidential duties, Vieux will travel back to campus frequently for DAA and board of trustees meetings, as well as key university events such as Reunions Weekend. While admitting that the added responsibility “presents some scheduling challenges,” he’s quick to note the rewards.
“Duke is as familiar as home to me,” he says. “It’s a place I go to recharge my batteries. I make it work because the university and the alumni are a priority for me. And I want students—and that includes undergraduate, graduate, and professional-school students—to know that when they leave here, there will be a smooth transition into being part of the alumni network, and that Duke will be a continuous part of their lives.”