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University welcomes the Class of 2015 at convocation

President Richard Brodhead addresses the freshmen with a message of freedom.
President Richard Brodhead addresses the freshmen with a message of freedom.

More than 1,700 freshmen crowded into the Duke Chapel to hear a message of freedom at the Wednesday’s Convocation ceremony.

“When the class of 2015 arrived, the earth shook,” President Richard Brodhead said in a timely pun given Tuesday’s earthquake, which took place during freshman move-in.

The Class of 2015—selected from almost 30,000 and representative of more than 55 countries—listened as Brodhead prepared them for the independence that lies ahead, marking the start of their college experience. He spoke of how parental oversight, a rigorously structured academic plan and the stressful college application process are now irrelevant.

“People fight and die for freedom every day,” Brodhead said. “You have the chance now to be the maker of your life. Put this freedom to good use.”

This theme continued throughout the ceremony, with Duke Student Government President Pete Schork, a senior, and Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, both encouraging the freshmen to approach the next four years with an open mind and the courage to fail.

“The room to innovate is what makes this place so special,” Schork said, adding that students should broaden their interests and “cast a net that goes beyond [their] application essays.”

Nowicki sagely advised the freshmen to accept imperfection in order to truly appreciate success and to take advantage of the Duke community in order to learn from their peers.

“Allowing yourself the luxury of failing is liberating,” he said.

This message eased some of the anxieties many freshmen were feeling due to the seemingly infinite choices Duke offers.

“The freedom aspect was scary, [but] now it’s more inspirational,” said freshman Duke Kim, who added that the administrators’ messages will motivate him to try new things.

Although Brodhead spoke primarily of positive opportunities, he also touched on a few delicate but notable subjects, including sex and alcohol. He said though laws are meant to prevent underage drinking, they have not kept unsafe alcoholic behavior away from any university campus, including Duke.

He advised students who are worried about impressing their peers to be courageous and “build a life that you will be proud of.”

But even though the message was coming from the University president, several freshmen said they believe their peers had already made up their minds on the subject.

“We’ve heard this already from so many sides,” freshman Kate Preston said. “Between our parents, our [first-year advisory counselors] and our [resident assistants], I don’t know if it was any more effective coming from the president. It was just another person.”

Brodhead concluded on a note of optimism, expressing his enthusiasm for the arrival of the Class of 2015.

Although every incoming class is an exciting addition to the Duke community, Brodhead called each new student individual wonders of the world.

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