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Founders' Day speaker decries excess

Evoking comparisons to Professor Reynolds Price's famous address nine years ago, Robert Connor, president and director of the National Humanities Center, challenged the University to live up to its highest ideals at Thursday's Founders' Day Convocation.

Connor opened his address concerning the "soul of the University" by saying American culture has become one not of greed, but of excess and a desire for status, lavish consumption and display.

Although he gave examples of corporate fraud, such as Enron and Xerox, Connor said the yearning for status and excess is a universal problem that also affects academia. He warned that this desire comes at a price of "alienation from nature, the inability of traditional cultural norms to inspire restraint and blindness to what is around us and could sustain us."

The University can and does offer something more than this, Connor said, alluding to Socrates and William Wordsworth. "Can we never stand up and shout, 'Open your eyes, look what you are doing, examine your life, your obsession with status'?" he asked, explaining that the community should see itself as more than just isolated individuals looking after themselves alone.

"[We are] bound together by our devotion to an institution that has a special place in our hearts, a special heritage from its founders and a special duty to perform," he said. "That's why we are here. Once we understand that, we can move forward."

President Nan Keohane compared the address to a speech by Price, James B. Duke professor of English, on Founders' Day in 1993, when Price questioned the University's success at fostering a true intellectual environment.

The convocation, which was open to the public, honored outstanding undergraduate and graduate scholars, faculty, staff and alumni.

William Anlyan, chancellor emeritus of the Duke Medical Center and a trustee of The Duke Endowment, and alumnus John McMahon, chair emeritus of the Board of Trustees, were the dual recipients of the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service, the University's highest award.

Trustee Emeritus Edward Benenson received the Distinguished Alumni Award in honor of his service as a trustee as well as his strong advocacy for arts on campus. David Walmer, recipient of the Humanitarian Service Award, was also honored for his "admirable and most effective service both here and abroad" in Haiti, Keohane said.

Assistant Professor of the Practice of Dance Ava Vinesett received the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award.

"I'm quite happy to have received this [award] and I am especially grateful to the Duke Alumni Association for establishing this award," Vinesett said. "The recognition by my students is humbling and touches my heart." In addition to receiving a $5,000 stipend, Vinesett has named Lilly Library as the recipient of a $1,000 stipend in research materials.

Five additional faculty members received awards for their distinguished teaching. Professors Alexander Motten of biology, Victor Strandberg of English, Allen Kelley of economics, Owen Astrachan of computer science and Jefferson Powell of law will be further honored at a dinner held in the fall.

Mary Ann Minnick, wife of Trustee Emeritus Carlton Minnick, has attended the service for between 10 and 15 years. Although she found it difficult to hear the speaker--a problem she says is common in the Chapel--Minnick still appreciated the service.

"I have always found it inspiring to hear what the alumni have accomplished," she said.

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