At Founder's Day Convocation, an event designed to commemorate the past, speaker Michael Sorrell paid attention to the future.
Sorrell, MPP ‘90 and J.D. ‘94, stressed in his convocation speech that Duke must strive to tackle the major issues facing the world today in order to continue being a leading institution down the road. The president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Sorrell also received the University Distinguished Alumni Award.
“Duke, I challenge you to take your time, your talent and your treasure and make this a better world,” he said.
Sorrell began his tenure at the historically black college Paul Quinn in 2007. Since then, he has turned around a school on the verge of shutting down—cutting tuition in half, converting the football field into a campus farm, connecting Duke alumni in Dallas with students and creating an institution dedicated to lifting students out of poverty. Fortune named him one of ‘The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders’ for his work.
In his speech, Sorrell compared greatness in Isaiah 58:10-12—“spend yourself on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed”—to greatness as defined by the college rankings, which measure number of amenities, quality of faculty and school resources. He implored Duke and its students to be great in the Isaiah sense and work to end poverty, reform the justice system and increase opportunities for all people.
“Whose version of great shall we be?” he asked. “Will we stand up to defeat the issues of our day?”
The University Medal was awarded to Thomas Gorrie, trustee emeritus, and Sally Robinson, Woman's College ‘55 and trustee emerita. Karin Shapiro, an associate professor of the practice in African and African American Studies, received the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award.
After Sorrell’s speech, President Vincent Price presented awards to Sorrell, Gorrie, Robinson and Shapiro.
Gorrie worked at Johnson & Johnson for 35 years and has served on many Duke boards since the 1980s, in addition to advising Duke presidents and provosts. Despite not attending Duke, he was a member of the Board of Trustees, Duke Kunshan University Advisory Board, Duke Health Board of Visitors and the Health System Board of Directors.
"Though he's not a Duke graduate, Thomas has been so active on this campus that everyone assumes he went here," Price said in his remarks about Gorrie.
Robinson, the other University Medal recipient, also served on the Board of Trustees, chairing the Student Affairs Committee for five years. She has been involved in leadership at Duke since she was president of her sophomore class at the Woman’s College.
Recently, she helped increase availability of financial aid by co-chairing the Financial Aid Initiative Committee, and she also served on Price’s Commission on Memory and History. Price described the medal as Duke’s way of ensuring Robinson’s “love affair” with the University isn’t “one-sided.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Unlike the other awards, the Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award is nominated by students and selected by a student committee. Shapiro’s students praised her classroom as “a rich soil to create new ideas” and an “open atmosphere." Her classes focus on race and social justice in American South and South Africa, where she grew up.
Since coming to Duke in 1998, she has established herself as a respected author and teacher. Shapiro has also directed two documentaries about South Africa and one about the Fulbright Program.