Most of the Class of 2023 moved in yesterday, and they may not yet know their way around campus. Luckily, President Vincent Price gave the first-years a geography lesson at convocation Wednesday morning.
It was another hot and humid day in Durham as newly-arrived first-years gathered in Cameron Indoor Stadium for their convocation. Duke Student Government President Liv McKinney spoke first, followed by Dean of Admissions Christoph Guttentag and President Vincent Price—a set of speakers that has become a time-honored tradition.
Price centered his speech around the 36th parallel north, a circle of latitude that runs through Duke’s campus along Campus Drive. Along the same parallel also lies Tehran, Iran; Aleppo, Syria; the Jiangsu Province in China—where Duke Kunshan University is found—and Nashville, Tenn.
The Greek geographer Eratosthenes tried to measure the circumference of the Earth in the third century BCE, Price explained, and the line he projected became the 36th parallel.
“In the centuries since, that line has guided untold travelers, dreamers, and explorers—and now, it has brought you here to Duke,” he added.
He used the line, and what lines can do, to illustrate his words of wisdom for the first-years. Lines can map and chart courses, and the Class of 2023 will soon be charting their course of study, extracurriculars, research and friendships, Price said. But he also told the class that there’s nothing wrong with not sticking to a chosen course.
“When you lose your line, when you veer off course and become disoriented, it’s not necessarily cause for concern,” Price told the first-years. “You may just discover places you’d never imagined, people you’d never expected to befriend, ideas that help you get back on course.”
Lines can connect as well, serving as “links between disparate points,” Price explained. First-years should extend their own connections by learning from those who test them, he recommended. This way, the incoming students can link a range of disciplines from their interactions with their peers, professors and others they will encounter at Duke.
He also pointed out that lines are used to divide and draw boundaries—the 36th parallel was in fact the line used for the Missouri Compromise, which allowed slavery south of the parallel and banned it to the north.
However, Price advised the class to not get boxed in by artificial boundaries. They should explore new ideas and areas of study to broaden their worldview, he said.
“Here before you at Duke, along that imaginary line that traces the road between East Campus and West, an entire universe of knowledge awaits your exploration,” Price said.
Before Price, Guttentag addressed the first-years, whose admissions process he oversaw. He noted that the Class of 2023 came from 60 countries, 48 states and 883 towns and cities.
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Since convocation was in Cameron, Guttentag used a basketball analogy to explain the process behind admissions. When coaches recruit players, he said, they don’t judge them based on what they are at the moment. Coaches recruit them for the players they could become down the road. The same mindset applies to Duke admissions.
“We didn't admit you because of what you did,” Guttentag said. “We admitted you because of what you're capable of doing, capable of becoming.”
McKinney, a senior, discussed the unexpected turns that life at Duke can take. She said her 18-year-old self would be “disappointed” if she knew how her “big plans” had unfolded. From seeing a concert instead of studying for a test to having to withdraw from a class, McKinney said that not everything has gone exactly as she envisioned.
Despite setbacks, she said she “would do it all over again.” Without that concert, she wouldn’t have met some of her best friends. And without struggling through classes, she wouldn’t have developed her support network and a strong belief in herself.
"If my path had worked out like I planned three years ago, I would've missed out on some of the best and most meaningful moments I've had at Duke," McKinney said.