Moms and Grads

August 1, 2004
May’s day: New graduates

May’s day: New graduates. Photo: Chris Hildreth

 

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged Duke graduates to be "doers ... able to chart your own course and unafraid, when necessary, to set sail against the strongest wind."

"Today is a day of joy and for approaching the future with optimism, yet in our high spirits we cannot but be conscious of shadows," said Albright, who in 1997 became the United States' first female secretary of state. "These include the shock of terror; the sorrow of innocent lives lost to war, disease, and other plagues; the insecurity and injustice resulting from the gap between rich and poor around the world; and the uncertainty caused by confusion, terrible mistakes, and ongoing violence in Iraq. There is a temptation to withdraw mentally from such perils, as if focusing our thoughts elsewhere might cause them to vanish. But avoidance is no way to live life."

Albright made her remarks before a crowd of some 15,000 people who had gathered on May 9, a warm, sunny Mother's Day, in Wallace Wade Stadium to see more than 3,700 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees awarded.

Albright was one of four who received honorary degrees. In the citation, President Nannerl O. Keohane called her "a shaper of the post-Cold War world who understood that effective diplomacy flowed from ethical understanding." The other honorary-degree recipients were South African jurist and human-rights activist Richard J. Goldstone ("As a judge in South Africa in the waning years of apartheid, you led an inquiry into violence that helped that country take its first steps toward truth and healing"); mathematician and former Duke provost Phillip A. Griffiths, who recently retired as director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey ("Through energetic efforts at faculty recruiting, you created intellectual excitement across the academic spectrum. You always saw a strong faculty as the core of a great university"); and genetics researcher Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ("During your career, you have pioneered techniques advancing the study of ailments as diverse as jet lag, inflammation, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, high blood pressure, and heart disease").

Student speaker Paul William Downs told graduates that the emotions they feel upon leaving Duke resemble those they felt when they entered the university. "We are once again fearful and eager," he said in a speech that ranged from dentistry and caffeine to difficult roommates and the legacy of a Duke education. "In the end, the most beautiful part of this school is all of you, each and every one," said Downs, a graduating senior from Sussex, New Jersey, elected by his classmates to give the address. "Your passion is the only thing more stunning than this campus."

In her address, Albright urged graduates "to have faith, because perhaps someday one of you will write a poem that elevates the mind; another a song that engenders love; and a third a book shedding new light upon the mysteries of life.... Perhaps one of you will devise a new foreign-policy doctrine that spells out the right role for America in the world--somewhere between isolationism that shuns global problems and neo-imperialism that leaves us grappling with the hardest problems virtually alone," Albright said, to applause. "Or, perhaps, one of you will become president of the United States and thereby make her alma mater very, very proud," she said, to more applause.

During her commencement address, Albright congratulated Keohane, who is retiring after eleven years as the university's leader. "This is, as you all know, Nan Keohane's final commencement as president of Duke," Albright said. "Her record as an educator and innovator will set the standard for those who follow. She has prepared this university for the new century by strengthening community ties, opening the door to international education, improving the status of women, and further burnishing Duke's reputation for excellence in all fields."