Over 1,700 freshmen filled the chapel as the Class of 2017 was welcomed to their college experience at Wednesday’s Convocation ceremony.
The nervous students—selected from over 32,000 applicants and representing 50 countries—were challenged to step outside their comfort zones and take advantage of all the University has to offer.
“As I look at you, Duke’s Class of 2017, I think of oysters,” said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education. “When I see an oyster, I see the potential for a pearl to be formed inside of it.”
He continued by explaining that it takes a grain of sand to make the oyster feel uncomfortable for the mollusk to develop the precious pearl.
By stepping outside of their comfort zone and trying new and challenging things, Nowicki said, students—like oysters—will gain personal value.
“The best thing you can do in your time at Duke is to ask yourself, allow yourself to be a little uncomfortable along the way,” Nowicki said.
Freshman Natalie Markowitz noted the meaningful symbolism of comparing the freshmen to oysters.
“It gives you comfort in being uncomfortable,” Markowitz said.
Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, continued his tradition of reading several entertaining tweets from move-in day. He included a profile of the incoming class, calling this the “most selective admissions process in the history of the University.”
The Class of 2017 comes from 49 states—with no representation from North Dakota, but with multiple students from Montana, the non-represented state from the Class of 2016.
Among the University’s newest students is a collector of antique paper money and coins, a chinchilla breeder, a world champion Irish step dancer and the world record holder for speed stacking.
“Today marks the formal beginning of your time at Duke, but I loved yesterday even more,” Guttentag said. “You started it apart and ended it together.”
President Richard Brodhead extended his welcome to the freshmen by speaking about the importance of happiness.
“Happiness comes through engagement.” Brodhead said. “We want you to be happy at Duke, so we need you to be engaged.”
He continued by reemphasizing the importance of having new experiences in college.
“If you face a choice between hanging back and jumping in one day, just remember what your awesome president told you,” Brodhead said. “Receive, command, engage.”
It is a daunting task to be told to follow your passions, Brodhead said. Rather, students should use college as a time to discover what they are most passionate about.
Nowicki echoed this sentiment.
“It isn’t enough to learn stuff,” he said. “That you could do on your smart phone without ever changing out of your pajamas.”
Senior Stefani Jones, president of Duke Student Government, urged students to take advantage of pursuing new experiences at Duke.
As a freshman who was accepted off of the waitlist, Jones felt she did not measure up to the accomplishments of her peers.
“You belong here at Duke, and Duke wants you here for a reason,” Jones said. “Jump right into Duke and don’t let anything hold you back.”
She concluded by welcoming the newest members of the Duke community.
“Congratulations Class of 2017, and welcome to the best years of your life,” Jones said.