Zakaria: 'Extraordinary Opportunity' Awaits Graduates

University awards 4,900 degrees at commencement ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium

May 13, 2012
Toby Ubu, senior class president, leads graduates into Wallace Wade Stadium at the beginning of the commencement ceremony. Photo by Les Todd/Duke University Photography

Durham, NC - A leading analyst of global politics told Duke University's newest graduates Sunday they are entering an "astonishingly peaceful" era whose "extraordinary opportunity" should not be obscured by temporary concerns about the economy and other world problems.

"Our world is at peace, profoundly at peace. This is historically a very rare phenomenon," Fareed Zakaria said at the annual commencement ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium. "Yes, you may be going through a particular year or two that are more difficult than others have been, but this is an extraordinary world [and] country you're coming into," said Zakaria, a journalist and author who hosts CNN's main foreign policy affairs show. (Read the full text of his address here.)

Noting problems that range from global warming to terrorism, Zakaria said, "I don't want you to feel that I am urging some kind of complacency. I'm not." But he noted how numerous benchmarks, from the number of global conflicts to global life expectancy and education rates, show the world becoming a safer and more prosperous place. He used several examples to illustrate his argument, including the growing power of cell phones, "which some of you are looking at right now, and don't think I don't see you."

Zakaria concluded by urging the graduates to embrace the "qualities that will help you live a good life," such as hard work, loyalty, love and faith. "Trust yourself; you know what you should do. You know what kind of life you should live. You don't need an ethics course to know what to do."

On Sunday, the university awarded more than 4,900 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, including to those who graduated in September and December.

Zakaria received an honorary degree during the ceremony. The university also awarded honorary degrees to James Barksdale, a business and philanthropic leader; Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; musician Emmylou Harris; Darryl Hunt, a spokesperson for wrongful convictions; and Nobel physicist Robert Richardson.

The deans of each Duke school then took turns awarding degrees to their graduates. Arts & Sciences Dean Laurie Patton announced the last and largest group of degrees, describing A&S students as "intellectually sparkling and completely cool." Moments later, the stadium erupted in the biggest cheers of the morning, followed by students flinging their tasseled caps into the air.

Student speaker Roshan Sadanani opened the ceremony by saying "the real wonder in this Gothic Wonderland has always been how after some time here, we all are able to claim a small piece of Duke as our own." Sadanani, a Charlotte native who received a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering, described how the university became smaller for students over the years as they created their own Duke experiences.

"During my time at Duke I've gone from Trinity to Pratt, from premed to not, and from Tanzania to the Philippines," Sadanani said. "I have friends who have gone from timid to confident, from biology to English, from representative to president. Some of you have gone from graduate student to doctorate, bachelor's to master's, or from single to married -- all while at Duke.

"We may not have done all of the same things, but I'd be willing to bet that for each and every one of you graduating today, Duke became just a bit smaller as you met new people and did new things, whether in Durham or not, whether in your comfort zone or not."

Duke President Richard H. Brodhead presided over the event in front of thousands of cheering families and others, including moms celebrating a special Mother's Day.

Earlier during the weekend, in his Baccalaureate address at Duke Chapel, Brodhead said "this beautiful place Duke is about to throw you out. Come back in three months and you'll find that we've replaced you with another. Like your famous ancestors Adam and Eve, whose departure from Eden is pictured in these stained glass windows, your days in the earthly paradise are over. Next, exile and the Great Unknown."

However, Brodhead went on to say, "We have a great hope for you: that in whatever career or sequence of careers awaits you, you will be repairers of a broken world. The world needs this; you have this capacity; and your education has fortified this power. But there is one thing more you will need, and neither you nor we can be certain at this time that you will have it: namely, the will to use your powers for this larger good. I say this because we live at a time when education and trained intelligence are more vital than ever to delivering all the things our society needs, from a vibrant economy to skilled workers to quality health care and schooling to sustainable practices, international understanding and all the rest."

Also prior to Sunday's ceremony, Duke's graduate and professional schools held graduation events across the campus. Their speakers ranged from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who spoke to graduates of Duke Law School, to NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who addressed graduates of the Duke MBA cross continent and weekend executive programs. Other speakers included David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group, who spoke to graduates of the Duke MBA daytime and Ph.D. programs one day after the university announced his $15 million gift to support innovation and entrepreneurship programs at Duke.

The Rev. Sam Wells, dean of Duke Chapel, spoke to Divinity School graduates for the last time. Wells is leaving Duke after seven years to become the vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

The main graduation ceremony was webcast live on Duke's Ustream channel and discussed live on Twitter. "I don't care who you are or where in life, that 'Pomp and Circumstance' gives the chills," tweeted jmgl. Duke Blue Planet honored graduating basketball player Miles Plumlee by tweeting: "Congrats Miles and the other 3000 grads!" 2jay7 tweeted "graduating is truly a blessing," a sentiment retweeted several times.

Following the main university ceremony Sunday, many of the graduates went to locations across the campus to receive their individual degrees at ceremonies organized by their schools, departments or programs.

More Information

Contact: David Jarmul
Phone: (919) 684-6815