The class of 2021 packed into the Duke Chapel on Wednesday for convocation, where the first-years were welcomed to the University by another “first-year 'Dukie'”—President Vincent Price.

In his first convocation, the University’s tenth president took the opportunity to tell the 1,740 first-years to appreciate the “bewilderment” they may find during their time at Duke. He was joined in welcoming the students by Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, and Duke Student Government President Riyanka Ganguly, a senior.

“As your fellow first-year ‘Dukie,’ I am proud to start my career alongside you,” said Price. “In the long history of Duke, the class of 2021 is truly remarkable. A record number of students—34,480, to be exact—applied for a seat in this magnificent chapel, and fewer than one in 10 were admitted.”

Price noted that among those first-years seated in the chapel were national champions in kayaking and archery, a volunteer firefighter and a European champion chess master.

Comparing the students' unique differences to pieces in the chapel’s stained glass windows, Price told the first-years that they would come together to “make the class of 2021 the beautiful mosaic that it will become.”

However, the president warned the first-years that the next four years would bring challenges—from professors asking questions they do not know the answers for to navigating the bus system to get from East to West campus.

“You will find that—as recent events surrounding this very chapel illustrate so well—you are not isolated from the cares, needs, demands and controversies of our nation and world,” said Price, referencing the recent removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from the front entrance of the chapel. “Indeed, you are called upon to engage in thoughtful, and sometimes very difficult, conversations about our history, our present and—most important—the course of our futures together.”

Price told the first-years that everyone loses their footing at times, including their classmates, parents, professors and himself. He said that what essayist Wendell Berry called “the bewilderments of the human condition” is a universal experience, encouraging the first-years to embrace that part of their Duke experience.

“It is with years of experience that I am going to let you in on a secret: the freedom to feel bewildered is the greatest gift that Duke offers you,” Price said. “Every member of this community—the faculty, staff and your fellow students—is dedicated to giving you the opportunity to explore truly challenging ideas and to try things on without fear of judgment. I hope you will take advantage of everything this University has to offer.”

Price closed his first Duke convocation speech by welcoming the first-years to the University and introducing Nowicki—who opened his remarks by talking about a letter that had informed him he wasn’t welcomed at Duke.

Nowicki explained that while some people hang up personal letters informing them they won an award or were accepted to Duke, the letter hanging on the wall in his office in the Biological Sciences building is a rejection letter he received when he first applied for a job at the University. Everything he knew about Duke had lead him to believe it would be a good fit for him as a scholar, but at first Duke didn’t agree.

“So sure, I was really disappointed to get this letter,” said Nowicki, “But after I got over being bummed out I thought ‘hey, I do belong at Duke, they just don’t know it yet.’ That’s why, when another job in my area became opened a little while later I applied again. Even more than the first time, I felt that I belonged here. This time Duke agreed.”

He explained to the first-years that when Duke offered them admission, it was the University’s way of saying that it thought they belonged here. By accepting it, the students showed that they thought they belonged here too.

“Now, here we all are as Duke’s class of 2021,” Nowicki said. “This convocation actually is when you officially become a Duke student. It’s also our chance to say again, in-person now, that you belong here—each and every one of you.”

While Price pushed the students to embrace bewilderment and Nowicki told them they belonged at Duke, Ganguly encouraged the first-years to pursue their passions during their time on campus. She discussed what pushed her to create the Peer Advocacy for Sexual Health Center on campus.

"If you are passionate about something, you owe it to yourself to pursue it,” she said.

First-year Lindsay Campbell said that her favorite part of convocation was hearing Ganguly speak.

“Obviously when you come to school you know who the president is and all that stuff, but I didn’t know who she was until that moment,” she said. “She had a really interesting story and it was cool to hear about it.”