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President Keohane addresses class of 2003 during convocation

The following is an edited text of President Nan Keohane's prepared convocation speech.

Welcome, all of you, to this historic gathering of our community at the opening of a new academic year. It gives me great pleasure to greet faculty and administrators and returning students, as well as transfer students and those on exchange from other universities. And a hearty welcome to the parents and family members of first-year students who are joining us electronically from Page Auditorium....

As you enter Duke, we are all preparing to enter a new decade, a new century, a new millennium. This fall, while you are exploring your new university and getting accustomed to college life, countless articles and TV shows will appear commenting on the greatest, the biggest, the most important people, events, scientific developments, of the past century, the past millennium. Other articles will focus on what we can look forward to, or dread, in the century, the millennium, just ahead of us....

P eople like H. G. Wells at the beginning of our own century tried hard to predict what our lives would be like today. They got some things right-flying machines and man on the moon, for example-but got much of it wrong, such as anti-gravity paint that would let us travel in space. Twenty years ago, lots of people thought discoveries by scientists at Duke and elsewhere would mean that by now we would have conquered all the dreaded diseases. It never occurred to them that new diseases like AIDS were already quietly gathering strength. Even 10 years ago, who would have predicted the place of the Internet and the World Wide Web in our lives?

At about that same time, the Cold War ended, and some people said there would be no more wars, that we were entering an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. So far, they were partly right about prosperity for the U.S., although surely not for the whole world-and don't talk about prosperity to the 44 million Americans who lack basic health insurance. And peace has proved sadly elusive, with war in Kosovo and threats of war in several other parts of the world.

...[I]n the rest of my talk today I'd like to make your future at Duke seem a bit less abstract, a bit more real, by directing your attention to some of the places you may expect to have such experiences in the next few years....

When you leave the Chapel today and head back home-to your new home, not the home you left yesterday or a few days ago-you'll head down Chapel Drive around the circle to Campus Drive and over to East Campus. The banners of your class, 2003, proudly hanging on the lampposts for the first time in history, will guide your way....

All of East Campus is now your home; you will find that it feels good to share that space with other freshmen, to recognize just about everybody, before too long, and to realize that almost everybody you see is just as new to Duke as you are and is wrestling with the same kinds of experiences.

But you are not just a freshman, you are part of an undergraduate student body of more than 6,000 students; and in addition to the special place of East Campus in your life, the rest of Duke University is also yours from day one to explore, to make your own....

Although West Campus was built in the 1920s, it looks ancient, timeless-and that's on purpose.... People come from all over the world to admire your University campus; perhaps when you see them taking photos you'll stop and remind yourself how beautiful this place is, so that you actually enjoy it while you are here....

Things seem to happen with special intensity on West Campus: people study and party hard. West Campus is home to Perkins Library, a splendid place to read, to explore, to lose yourself in the collections of one of the best university libraries anywhere....

And of course, West Campus is also home to the sports complex: our hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium, where very tall men and women play the best basketball in the world; K-ville, ready to receive your tents for the first camping out; the spacious new Wilson Rec Center, which you will help inaugurate this fall; the new indoor tennis stadium; and our renovated Wallace Wade football stadium, where Duke's new airborne offense takes off in a few weeks.

Over all this, the characteristic Duke gargoyles preside benignly, inscrutably. Look for these mischief-makers; get to know and enjoy them; they are all over the place, especially around West Union....

A s you'll soon discover, there's a lot of Duke's campus that's neither East nor West. Some of it lies along Campus Drive, including several little houses that have international themes and fly international flags, and our brand-new Center for Jewish Life....

The biggest portion of Duke by far is the Duke University Medical Center, a huge world-class collection of hospitals, clinics, research labs, that involves more than two-thirds of the people at Duke. You may only be aware of it when you see one of our life-flight helicopters.... But you should be aware that behind the door that opens off West Campus at the far end from Clocktower Quad is one of the largest and finest medical centers in the whole world.

And then beyond that, 12 square miles of Duke Forest to explore.... One of the best parts of the Forest belongs to the lemurs in Duke's Primate Center; the lemurs turn up in cartoons and student jokes all the time, a special type of Duke mascot along with the Blue Devil; get to know them both....

In addition to the places on Duke's far-flung campuses that will matter to you, so will our city of Durham....

Durham, like most cities, also has some areas that are not so upbeat or fun, areas where people live in a high degree of poverty and struggle to keep their lives and families together.... I hope each of you will find ways to volunteer in these parts of our community.... Leaving some time on your busy schedule for helping others is part of living an ethical life, and reaching out in such ways can be part of your education....

Beyond Durham, there is a town about a dozen miles to the west, the home of our fiercest sports rivals, but also the home of Franklin Street, another great place to hang out. And some of you may even find yourself taking a class at UNC. You can actually do this, take advantage of two of the finest universities in the world, and it won't stop you from chanting "Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell" in Cameron; you just compartmentalize the different parts of your mind and move on ahead....

For all of you, a fairly large proportion of your time over the next few years will be spent in a different kind of place called cyberspace, while you are logged onto your computer, for class purposes, research, e-mail, games, surfing the web. Cyberspace is a funny kind of place, and you should stop sometimes and think about how you use it. There are some pitfalls here, as well as mind-blowing opportunities....

And you also need to be wary of the temptation to conduct your life too much in cyberspace and not enough in person. We all hear stories about a student in one dorm room perpetually sending e-mail to the student in the next, rather than getting up and walking next door to have a real conversation. There are some great things about electronic communication, but it's an imperfect substitute for face-to-face discussions, interactions, intimacy. Don't hide in cyberspace, or get so carried away by its fascinations that you forget to get a life....

Finally, a bit of advice about a "place" you may never have thought about before.

Over the decades of your life you will spend a lot of time with many different people... but the person you will spend the most time with is yourself. One of your major purposes at Duke should be preparing yourself to be an interesting person to spend time with....

This brings me to the last kind of space I want to explore with you, an unusual form of space, like cyberspace, but one that will be even more important to you in the coming months and years.

One of my favorite authors, one I hope many of you will discover for yourself, is Michel de Montaigne, a 16th-century Frenchman who wrote a book for which he coined a new title that has become a common noun: Essais. The French root of this word means to try, to experiment, to give things a chance and see what happens. And this is what he did in his book, providing accounts of his explorations of the world, both the world outside (he was an inveterate traveler) and the world within himself....

Montaigne hit upon a lovely image that I commend to you: the image of the "back room of the mind." He thought of his own mind as a kind of tower library to which he could retreat even when he was far away from home, filled with quotations from wise people and experimental thoughts and jokes and anecdotes, where he could keep company with himself. He suggested that we all have such back rooms in our minds, and that the most valuable and attractive people we know tend to be people who have rich and fascinating intellectual furniture in those spaces rather than a void between their ears.

You might think of your education as a way of furnishing that back room of your mind. Fortunately, you don't have to complete the job by the time you get your baccalaureate degree. In fact, the most wonderful thing about a worthwhile education is that, unlike most consumer goods, it tends to get better the more you use it. It improves rather than depreciates with age. If you use your time at Duke wisely, you will not just complete the required number of courses, but you will prepare yourself for a lifelong odyssey in which you will keep learning, keep experimenting, remain mentally adventurous and continually update and redecorate the back room of your mind-perhaps the most important space of all.

Last month, I got a letter from the father of a Duke graduate of the Class of 1999.... I wanted to quote a paragraph from his letter, both for yo

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