Senior Deeksha Malhotra will be giving the student commencement address at graduation—to the surprise of many, but mostly herself.
Her speech was chosen out of the many that were submitted by undergraduate and graduate students. She will get the chance to share her words of wisdom alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook, Fuqua '88, during graduation May 13 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“Most people that know me are probably very surprised I am the speaker because I am not very outspoken,” Malhotra said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say.”
She explained that the ideas in her speech had been brewing for a long time, and she finally wrote it over spring break this year with the help of professors, close friends and her parents. She hopes women, especially Asian-American women, will appreciate her presence on stage.
"It's nice for them to see someone that looks like them up there because I don't think that's happened in a while," she said.
However, Malhotra added that she wants everyone in the diverse audience to relate to her speech, so her words will focus on something that unites all Duke students—education. Instead of applauding how much she has learned, she will highlight the importance of not knowing everything.
As a neuroscience major, she has come to understand and appreciate two key things—there are several counterarguments for every neuroscience argument she could make, and every scientist’s livelihood depends on the existence of unanswered questions. The value of her Duke education does not rest in having the answer to every one, she noted.
“All [Dean of Admissions Christoph Guttentag] said [in our acceptance letters] is that we would be prepared, and so that we are,” Malhotra said. “That doesn't come from knowing a million facts, but we know how to go about finding those facts.”
She will also touch on some of her involvements at Duke throughout the address. As a resident assistant in Few Quad for the past two years, she has had a “very personal experience” building relations and living with her residents.
Research has played a large part in her journey as well—she wrote her thesis on how motivation affects human exploration. She has also served on the executive board for Camp Kesem, a camp for children whose parents have cancer.
One of her friends from Camp Kesem, junior Tyler Goldberger, said he has admired Malhotra ever since he met and started working with her.
“What strikes me most about Deeksha is her selflessness in everything that she does, always going the extra mile to check on everyone's well-being,” he wrote. “While I am selfishly sad to see her graduate, I know that she will continue to inspire us with her Commencement words for many years to come!”
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Malhotra explained that she feels privileged to give the student address and hopes that adrenaline and the gravity of the moment will carry her through giving a speech to such a large audience. Giving her speech well is not Malhotra's only motivation, however.
“My goal is to get a selfie with Tim Cook,” she added.