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Leah Rosen encourages the 'experience of being' in student Commencement speech

<p>Student speaker Leah Rosen addressed the graduates at commencement.&nbsp;</p>

Student speaker Leah Rosen addressed the graduates at commencement. 

Senior Leah Rosen opened her speech at Sunday’s Commencement ceremony with a simple question, one Duke students have heard time and time again.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Rosen asked.

Our answers have changed through the years, she said, from occupations like “princess” as a child to “finance” or “consulting” as a Duke student. However, Rosen pointed out that none of those answers actually answer the question. 

“What you want to be is not the same question as what you want to do,” she said. “Doing means action—being takes that a little deeper to imply presence, an intention in our actions.”

As she has hinted, her speech concentrated on the difference between “being” and “doing.” She said it’s easy to get caught up in just doing, going through the motions without pausing to think about why it all matters. Rosen said she had been caught in that cycle most of her life, and only recently has she been able to “unlock the experience of being.”

Rosen concluded her speech by sharing a poem that she wrote titled “The Power of a Place.” 

The poem carried a positive, optimistic message about Duke and its students. To Rosen, what makes Duke truly special is the people she met, from her friends to her professors. She hoped that through the connections she’s made, “it'll feel like we never had to leave.”

“But today is the day, and although we'd like to stay, I can confidently state in the classic Duke way, we are over-prepared for whatever comes after today,” she said.

She said she has learned a lot from Duke students: that they understand being versus doing and care about the effect their work has on the outside world—not just which boxes they can check off.

"And that's what matters for us now and the years after, that what we do aligns with who we want to be and the future that we want to see, and for that, just between you and me, I think we're at one of the best places to be,” she said.

President Vincent Price presided over the Commencement ceremony, his second as president. Duke Trustee Lisa Borders, Trinity ‘79 and the former president of the WNBA and TIME’S UP, delivered the Commencement address. More than 5,500 undergraduate and graduate degrees were conferred. 

The University awarded four honorary degrees at the ceremony as well. The recipients were Elizabeth Alexander, author and the president of the the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor at New York University and National Humanities Medal winner; Brian Kobilka, winner of a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and professor at Stanford University; and Caroline Series, a mathematician known for co-authoring “Indra's Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein.”