The Chronicle

At Convocation, freshmen told to push outside comfort zones

More than 1,700 freshmen filled Duke Chapel at Wednesday’s Convocation ceremony, listening to speeches about seeking out their purpose at Duke and finding ways to make the campus home.

President Richard Brodhead told the incoming students that they should feel confident in believing they will thrive at Duke, but warned them not to let the comfort of security get in the way of branching out or pursuing lofty goals.

“There are values that are not compatible with comfort, and those include values crucial to the adventure you’re about to undertake,” Brodhead said. “You could court everything that challenges you… Then you’d have four years of growth and empowerment—a big return for having been willing to risk some small initial discomfort.”

Before he bestowed his advice on the newest undergraduates, Brodhead addressed the student’s parents, who were watching a live stream of the event in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“Go home, back off,” he told them, evoking surprised laughter from the crowd. “Give them space to build an independent life.”

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag opened his speech by asking the students to take a moment to look at what Brodhead called the “community of talent in a thousand different forms” around them by introducing themselves to their neighbors in the chapel pews. He waited as the room filled with chatter and handshakes for half a minute before resuming.

“Savor your classmates, your community,” he said. “Take advantage of that in the coming years.”

The Class of 2018 comes from the largest and most competitive applicant pool Duke has received, Guttentag said, with an acceptance rate of 10.8 percent out of 32,453 early and regular decision applicants. Students hail from 48 states and 47 countries, and for the first time, more than half of the class is composed of students of color.

Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, encouraged the students to use their time as undergraduates to pin down their true purpose for being at Duke.

“You chose to come to Duke, but why did you make that choice?” Nowicki asked. “Why are you here?”

Duke Student Government President Lavanya Sunder, a junior, followed a similar theme with her remarks to close out the ceremony, wishing the class well as they attempt to fit in and make their place at Duke.

“I hope everyone here finds their way home,” she said.

Freshman Micaela Unda said she appreciated Sunder’s remarks, particularly the reassurance that the confusion will die down eventually so students can find their niche at Duke.

“With the feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s comforting to hear you’ll have a second home here,” Unda said.

Even though most of the speakers were high-ranking campus leaders and professors, students said they were easily able to connect to and understand the down-to-earth messages about nerves, discomfort and finding one’s place.

“I can already feel the connectedness between the professors and students,” said freshman Lena Patel. “The deans could really relate to the students.”

Shortly after the ceremony and its accompanying picnic, parents were encouraged to say their goodbyes as the class moved on to their next slew of Orientation Week activities.

With Convocation over, Patel said, “everything feels real now.”