Duke trustee entertains, inspires in remarks

Members of the Duke faculty and administration sing the University’s alma mater at the Founders’ Day convocation that took place in the Duke Chapel Friday afternoon.
Members of the Duke faculty and administration sing the University’s alma mater at the Founders’ Day convocation that took place in the Duke Chapel Friday afternoon.

Trustee David Rubenstein, Board of Trustees vice chair and Trinity ’70, channeled James B. Duke in his remarks during the Founders' Day convocation Friday.

Pulling his iPad out from under the podium, the noted philanthropist read aloud an “email” from the University’s founder that detailed thoughts on Duke’s strategic priorities, values and future—a relevant theme given the University’s launch of its capital campaign this weekend. Rubenstein framed these suggestions as “10 Friendly Thoughts” from the founder.

“[Duke should] strive to be one of the world’s finest universities and yet in that effort strive to maintain those qualities which make this university so distinctive and so different,” he said. “The world does not needs two Harvards, or two Stanfords or two Princetons—it needs one Duke.”

Rubenstein also highlighted the University’s commitment to teaching students, enabling a strong faculty and promoting high ethical standards and diversity as further marks of excellence and continued progress. He noted the coexistence of world-class academics and athletics as a pillar of Duke’s prominence.

Through founder James B. Duke, Rubenstein touted the importance of communicating goals and teaching students to be responsible as well as humble public citizens.

“Teaching everyone at Duke the value of humility about their abilities and achievements is time well-spent and will pay rich dividends throughout their lives,” he said.

In addition to delivering thoughts on Duke’s direction, Rubenstein emphasized the opportunities a Duke education presents, recalling his own rise from humble beginnings to good fortune. Rubenstein is the co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group—one of the world’s largest private equity firms—and recently appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine with other philanthropy giants such as Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.

“I intend to use my good fortune in many different ways, and one of the things I want to do is to repay my obligation to Duke for having taken a chance on me,” he said.

Rubenstein’s parents, neither of whom graduated high school, could not afford to send him to Duke, so they relied on financial aid from the University. Characterizing himself as a student who was neither a great scholar nor student leader while at Duke, he implored students to persevere to reach their goals.

“With the grace of God and if you continue to work hard, anybody can make something of themselves, and I think my example is illustrative of that,” he said.

The voice of James B. Duke continued to resonate with visitors this weekend as a number of other speakers took note of Rubenstein’s strategy. In his remarks at the Duke Forward launch gala, men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski brought the motif one step further, receiving a “phone call” from the founder in the middle of his remarks.

“Whenever you are giving a speech or doing something a little unconventional, you never know if it will work,” Rubenstein said in an interview. “I thought it might be a good way to communicate certain ideas... ideas many people have—I was just using the voice of James B. Duke to do so.”

Rubenstein closed his remarks with the hope that Duke continues to be a university that emphasizes students’ and faculty’s personal happiness in addition to academic, athletic and innovative excellence. Noting Duke Forward as an opportunity for progress, he implored the audience to give back to Duke because enabling Duke’s interests is acting in the world’s best interests as well.

“There can be no doubt that a stronger, enhanced Duke is something to be desired and valued,” he said. “I know from my own experience that [those who help Duke] will feel better about themselves for having done so. They will and should feel that way because they can rightly take pride in having a role in making the world a somewhat better place—and what more can one want out of life?”

During the convocation, President Richard Brodhead presented a number of awards and honors to distinguished members of the University community. Dr. Rebecca Kirkland, the great-granddaughter of Washington Duke, received the University Medal, and Trustee Jack Bovender, Health Administration ’69, received the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Kirkland is a former trustee and currently serves on the Duke University Heath System Board of Directors, chairing the board’s Patient Safety and Clinical Quality Committee since 2003. Bovender currently serves as vice chair of the Board and most recently, along with his wife Barbara, pledged a $25 million bequest to support the Fuqua School of Business, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Nursing.


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