Sunday , May 13th.
The weather this morning was ideal : bright and sunny , the temperatures in the 70’s with none of the brief showers that are common in this season. Our nephew was due to receive his two postgraduate degrees ( Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Management ) that afternoon at the Duke Chapel but we were keen to attend the main graduation ceremony in the morning because we wanted to hear Fareed Zakaria deliver the commencement speech.
At about 10 AM, we filed into the Wallace Wade Stadium along with thousands of other parents and family members and took our place in the stands. The field was a beautiful sight: thousands of chairs laid out with geometric precision , each with a program laid on its seat. Behind the elevated stage were three artificial ,but realistic looking, crenellated towers , complete with climbing ivy ,and with real shrubs planted at their bases . Our timing could not have been more perfect ; within 5 minutes of taking our seats the trumpets sounded and the graduates -to – be started filing in . It is a sight that never fails to move me .
All told , our children and their cousins have acquired twelve degrees , both graduate and postgraduate, and we have been privileged to attend most of their commencements . Even more than weddings , commencements are happy occasions as they represent the culmination of years of hard work and the dawning of the future. It is touching to see the pride of the families as “their'”graduatereceives his diploma. Next to us was a large, very vocal Greek- American family waving frantically to attract their son’s attention . Finally , the father used his cell phone to contact him and there was an outburst of cheering as their son located them in the stands and waved back to them.” Thank God for Steve Jobs !!” said Dad, as he put away his cell.
The welcoming speeches by the Dean and others were admirable in their clarity and their conciseness.Then began the awarding of the honorary degrees . Notable honorees were the musician Emmylou Harris , the educational philanthropist James Barksdale , Ambassador Nancy Brinker ( who started the Susan B. Komen Foundation for Cancer Cure in memory of her sister) and Fareed Zakaria . The most unusual of the honorees was Darryl Hunt who was found guilty of murder and spent 19 years behind bars before being exonerated. The experience could have embittered him but he chose to transcend it and instead works tirelessly to bring justice for those who are wrongfully convicted.
Fareed Zakaria who was to deliver the commencement address is well-known as the host of his own TV show , ” Fareed Zakaria GPS” , and as an astute political commentator and journalist ( he’s the Editor-at-Large for Time magazine ). I had been curious how Zakaria would perform as the commencement speaker because a political background is not always best for this task. At my son’s graduation at Wharton nine years ago , the Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu made an unnecessarily political speech that was absolutely irrelevant to the graduating students . As it turned out , I need not have worried about Fareed Zakaria because he made an absolutely brilliant speech. It was interesting . It was humorous and graceful . It was optimistic and ,above all ,it was relevant.
He began by saying that the Duke graduates -to-be were already ahead of him because they were able to attend the commencement. He himself , he said , could not attend his own commencement because of an ” anticipatory celebration ” the night before ! Having thus engaged his audience , he then delivered a message of hope and optimism. He pointed out that , contrary tp public perceptions, the world today is largely at peace; there are no large-scale wars of the type that we have suffered in the recent past. Despite the economic downturn , this is a time of unparalleled opportunity for you, he said . More and more countries are participating in the benefits of the economy and the amazing pace of technological advance offers you a chance to make your mark in the world. It was exactly what a commencement speech should be and if you want to read the full speech , you can do so at www.today.duke.edu/2012/05/zakariaspeech .
Zakaria will deliver the commencement address at Harvard in two days time and it will be interesting to compare it with the speech he made at Duke . He has said that it will be similar but different.
After the commencement address , we strolled across the campus to the Duke Chapel where the post-graduate degrees were to be handed out . It is a beautiful campus and the Duke Chapel with its square 210 feet high tower is its crown jewel. A massive edifice that is modeled on the famous cathedral at Canterbury , it seats 1,800 people , and has 77 stained glass windows , a 50-bell carillon and three massive pipe organs . Seated under its vaulted arch ceiling, drinking in the beauty of the surroundings ,one experiences some of the awe that the worshipers at Canterbury Cathedral must have felt.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There was a 90 minute break before our nephew’s first graduation ceremony and we spent it , sheltered from the drizzle under one of the large Welcome tents on the lawn. BTW , a nearby sign proclaimed the area to be Krzyzewskiville , in order of the iconic Duke basketball coach. After trying to spell his name correctly , I now understand why most people refer to him as Coach K . (LOL).
Both our nephew’s graduation ceremonies went of well. Because the graduating class was so small ( about 100 , in each case) , the ceremonies were intimate and we got a good look at all the grads as they filed to the stage to receive their diplomas and then as they exited the chapel.In between the two ceremonies we were treated to a substantial lunch of a wrap ( tuna salad/ chicken salad flavored with tarragon / mixed vegetable), sweet potato chips , apple, cookie and beverages that we consumed seated on folding chairs on the lawn. It was a very enjoyable experience.
Afterwards we bade goodbye to our son who flew back to NYC that evening ; he had to work on Monday. We ourselves would stick around and help our nephew pack up his belongings before driving to the Outer Banks the next day.
Next: OuterBanks , Kitty Hawk , Cape Haterras