In his address at the 2016 commencement ceremony, men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski emphasized the importance of expecting great things and seeking the right people in life.
Graduates from 10 of Duke's constituent schools gathered in Wallace Wade Stadium Sunday to hear Coach K’s address and receive their degrees. Coach K—who is now in his 36th year leading the Blue Devils and is the winningest coach in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball history—spoke about lessons he learned from his own education and from coaching Duke.
“It’s game time,” he said. “It’s time for you to display your heart, to find teams, to go for it and to expect great things.”
Coach K's commencement address lasted approximately 30 minutes and was the focal point of the commencement ceremony, which started at 9 a.m. with a procession and lasted a little more than two hours. Approximately 5,300 undergraduate, graduate and professional students were awarded degrees.
In his speech, Coach K noted advice his mother gave to him when he was young to surround himself with “good people.”
“It’s really the main thing I’ve done my whole life. I’ve sought good people. And that’s why I’ve been at Duke for 36 years—how can you be better?” he said. “As you move forward, choose your occupation—but choose people. Good people will make you better.”
Coach K also recalled last year’s national championship win for Duke, and how with 13 minutes to go in the game, the “team was in trouble.”
He explained, however, that freshman Grayson Allen’s outburst of energy—and shouting, “Let’s go!”—motivated the entire team.
“On that day, my team talked and my team listened,” he said. “My team found its heart, and my team won the national championship.”
Coach K went on to share four things that he believed would help graduates deal with inevitable failures in their future careers.
“Attitude, belief, preparation and then the coolest thing is to execute,” he said. “Execute what you’ve just had a great attitude about... and as a result you’ll probably hit something that you never could’ve before.”
Coach K ended his commencement address by asking the graduates gathered in front of him to do the same thing he said he would ask the U.S. men’s national basketball team to do before the 2016 Olympics’ gold medal game in August.
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He asked them to stand up, lock arms with the people next to them and all say, “together.”
“Do you feel something? You’re damn right. You feel part of a team. Use what you have, follow your heart, and do it together,” he said. “Coach K out.”
Students noted that they enjoyed Coach K’s commencement address.
“I think his humor was uplifting and his honesty and his own stories really made him seem like a person,” said Taylor Doty, graduate of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. “He was able to relate a lot of the things he does in his life to some of the things we’ll do in our lives.”
Another major theme of this year’s commencement ceremony was the importance of developing empathy, the topic of student speaker Shannon Beckham’s address. She explained that graduates should reject apathy and embrace inclusivity.
“It is with these values that we will find the will to guide our ambition—not just towards greatness, but also towards goodness,” Beckham noted.
She shared how her Duke experiences helped her grow as a person and realize the importance of broadening one’s mind.
“In incidents of discomfort and unrest, on and off campus, they challenged me to put myself in the shoes of others, to deepen my empathy,” Beckham said.
At the ceremony, Duke also awarded honorary degrees to epidemiologist and global health pioneer Dr. William Foege; Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; journalist and TV talk show host Charlie Rose, Trinity ’64 and Law ‘68; former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey; and mathematician Srinivasa Varadhan.