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Founders' Day 2003

It was a curtain call to remember.

In perhaps the most eloquent and passionate speech in her 10 years at Duke, President Nan Keohane extolled the importance of the University's core scholarly enterprise in a stirring Founders' Day address Thursday that received a several-minute standing ovation. With about nine months remaining before she hands over the reigns of the University, Keohane also used the final formal speech of her tenure to throw down the gauntlet to her successor and the entire University to continue the advancement of its local, national and international leadership and reputation.

Also during the annual Founders' Day ceremonies, Board of Trustees Chair Peter Nicholas surprised Keohane by awarding her the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service--the highest award the University bestows.

"Duke has enjoyed [a] golden age under the leadership of President Nan Keohane," Nicholas told a packed Chapel audience of Trustees, administrators, alumni, faculty, students, staff and employees. Keohane's address foreshadowed her return to scholarship in political philosophy after more than two decades in top university administration as the president of Duke and Wellesley College.

"I know that it will not be easy," Keohane said. "Being a university president is a demanding job, but no harder, in the end, than sitting down before a blank computer screen to begin to craft what you want to say about a subject of great importance to you and to the world, to say it wisely and powerfully. I look forward greatly to that stage of my journey."

While acknowledging the hard work and unfaltering dedication of thousands of members of the Duke "family" who keep the University's infrastructure and business operations running, she paid particular tribute to the faculty, students and other scholars who form the "heart and soul" of Duke.

"Teaching and learning, pushing back the boundaries of knowledge and exploring new terrain that we call 'research,' are what this is all about," Keohane said. "All the services, all the infrastructure, all the support functions, all the extracurricular activities, surround and undergird the central work we do, which is undoubtedly some of the most exciting, rewarding and deeply meaningful work done anywhere."

Keohane spoke eloquently about the pursuit of one's passions, an endeavor that she said undoubtedly includes long periods of hard work, tedium and bone-tiredness, wrong turns and false starts, losses and disappointments, but also moments of joyous satisfaction.

"Scholarship, when you love it and give yourself to its demands, is like that. It offers moments of exhilarating discovery when you finally hit on the evidence to confirm an insight you knew had to be true, or you come across something that you could not possibly have known that all of a sudden transforms your world," she said. "To describe that experience, the only helpful analogies are to other powerful human passions. Scholarship in those moments is like the pure sharp love of parents for the newborn child, or the thrill of an explorer finding a new continent or planet....

"Such passionate experiences, such deep rewards, happen to scholars of all ages, from the first year undergraduates who suddenly see the world from a whole different perspective to the emeritus professors who finally find the words for something they have been wanting to say for a long time," Keohane added.

Her words hit home with many of the students in the audience. "She made we want to go home and devote myself to studying, to reading, to research for its own sake," said freshman Jimmy Soni, a University Scholar.

In reflecting back on her 10 years at Duke--"briefly replay[ing] the tape in the opposite direction" in her words--Keohane also pointed to the University's numerous successes--from the Campaign for Duke to the Robertson Scholars program--and also some of its shortfalls.

In particular, Keohane made a strong call for a continued effort to bring Duke's international standing up to par with its peers.

"The occasional sighting of kids in Duke tee-shirts from Beijing to Buenos Aires is no substitute for the instant brand recognition that a few United States institutions of higher education enjoy abroad," she said. "We're making progress; there are Duke programs on every continent, Duke alums in leadership in major cities, Duke experts who are consulted and cited on many different issues around the world. But we are still notably behind some of our older colleagues in international visibility. I have no doubt that this priority will continue to be one of ours in the years ahead."

Keohane also said she regrets that during the 1990s, Duke and its North Carolina peers "missed precious opportunities for partnership between our universities, the businesses in our region and the state government."

"Our historic industries--tobacco, furniture, textiles--are under siege or moving elsewhere," she said. "They could and must be replaced by new industries that arise from advances in genomics, photonics, informatics, marine sciences, medical care, financial management, all areas that are well represented in the campuses of the Triangle, including ours. We have fallen behind Maryland and Georgia, Virginia and Texas, who have made this kind of collaboration a high priority." Before awarding Keohane the University Medal, Nicholas said Duke is in a better place today than it was 10 years ago.

"Your tribute to scholarship and teaching helps to soften the blow of your departure from the University," he told Keohane, who will begin a year sabbatical in June, studying with her husband, Professor of Political Science Robert Keohane, at the Center for Advanced study in the Behavioral Sciences near Stanford University, where Nan Keohane once taught.

Although this year's Founders' Day celebrations are meant to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Keohane's presidency, the Chapel ceremonies Thursday also honored a host of other Duke community members.

University Medals were also awarded to former Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Joe Pietrantoni and Trustee emeritus Morris Williams, Jr., Trinity '62.

James Dalton, Trinity '44, was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award; Carol Flath, associate professor of the practice of Slavic languages and literature, won the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award; and the University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award was given to George Tauchen, the William Henry Glasson professor of economics.

The Humanitarian Award was awarded to former Duke librarian Florence Blakely, and four teaching excellence awards were given out during the convocation, to associate professor of computer science Amin Vahdat, associate professor of English Laurie Shannon, professor of the practice of economics Lori Leachman and professor of anthropology Naomi Quinn.

In addition to faculty and alumni awards, those honored during the Founders' Day service included Angier B. Duke Scholars, Benjamin N. Duke Scholars, James B. Duke Graduate Fellows, Reginaldo Howard Scholars, University Scholars, Robertson Scholars, President's Research Fellows, Faculty Scholars, The Duke Endowment Fellows and others.

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