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Duke announces Ken Jeong as Class of 2020 commencement speaker at basketball game

Ken Jeong at 2012 WonderCon.
Ken Jeong at 2012 WonderCon.

Ken Jeong will deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2020, according to an announcement video at the Duke-North Carolina State basketball game Monday night.

Jeong, Trinity ‘90, is an actor and comedian best known for roles in the TV show “Community” and “The Hangover” film series, in addition to currently serving as a judge on “The Masked Singer.” After graduating from Duke with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, he attended the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, where he earned his medical degree in 1995. He practiced medicine for a decade before moving on to the comedy scene.

“I am thrilled that Ken will be returning to Duke as our commencement speaker,” President Vincent Price said in a news release. “If all the world’s a stage, there are few Dukies who have successfully played so many roles—he is an actor and an advocate, a doctor and a devoted Blue Devil, Mr. Chow and Dr. Ken. I know he will inspire our students to pursue careers of similar passion and purpose, and maybe give us a few laughs along the way.”

Jeong will also receive a doctor of humane letters honorary degree at the ceremony.

His selection breaks a recent tradition of tapping trustees to deliver the commencement address. Lisa Borders, Tim Cook and David Rubenstein gave the speech in 2019, 2018 and 2017, respectively. Ten Duke alumni have been chosen for the honor since 1987, and Jeong will be the 11th to take the stage. 

“College is about self-discovery, and if I hadn't attended Duke, I never would have been an actor, comedian and Instagram model,” Jeong said in the release. “I am honored and thrilled to be coming home and sharing my love with my Blue Devil family.”

Born in Detroit, Jeong was raised in South Korea and Greensboro, N.C. He skipped a grade in high school, graduating at the age of 16 and matriculating at Duke in 1986. The entertainer was initially set on a pre-med curriculum but began dabbling in theater as a sophomore, leading to dueling interests that would stretch for more than a decade.

His goals of becoming a doctor and pursuing a comedy career were intertwined, as he performed stand-up comedy even while working 90-hour weeks during his residency in New Orleans. In 1995, Jeong won a stand-up contest and was invited to Los Angeles for a performance, but declined an agent’s offer to represent him after delivering his Hollywood debut, opting to continue the long road toward being a physician.

Post-residency life brought him back to Los Angeles, where he worked at Kaiser Permanente hospital and continued stand-up comedy. Finally, he found himself acting on Comedy Central’s “Comic Groove” in 2002 and starred in his first film as a doctor in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.”

In 2006, he stopped his medical practice to pursue acting full-time, but Jeong still retains his medical license. 

“We are so excited to have Ken Jeong speak this year,” senior Katie Cassedy said in the release. “Jeong is an example of the extraordinary possibilities when you graduate. He will really resonate with students for years to come, and I think he’ll bring a lot of laughs too.”

The Class of 2020 commencement ceremony is set to take place May 10 at Wallace Wade Stadium. 


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