“This is not normal,” said senior Meghana Sai Iragavarapu as she began her speech at the 2021 Commencement ceremony.
Iragavarapu said that the last time things felt normal for her was in March 2020 when she was in Cameron Indoor Stadium screaming for Duke to beat the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after weeks of tenting in Krzyzewskiville.
“That feeling of being one part of the collective community is how I like to think we started off our journey,” she said, recalling a time during orientation week when the Class of 2021 stood on the East Campus quad, squeezed into a chalk outline of “2021” and took a photo.
It amazed Iragavarapu that in that moment, the Class of 2021 was “all so physically close but had no idea of the stories, personalities and friendships” to come over the next four years.
She said she had two main takeaways from her Duke experience during COVID-19: character and community.
“It is the higher standard of character we hold ourselves and each other to, creating this one-of-a-kind community that bleeds deep blue,” she said.
For character, Iragavarapu quoted Indian guru and philanthropist Sathya Sai Baba: “The end of wisdom is freedom. The end of culture is perfection. The end of knowledge is love. The end of education is character.”
Iragavarapu said that over the last four years, the Class of 2021 had to learn to take care of themselves, make sacrifices, establish boundaries, ask for help and care for one another, which she believes built their character. Looking back at her first-year self, she feels more resilient, joking that “maybe it’s the antibodies, or possibly the experience that Duke embodies.”
In terms of community, Iragavarapu noted how administrators sign even stern or disciplinary emails with “Go Duke!”
“Why? Because through the ups and downs, the good decisions and bad decisions, whether we’re shoulder to shoulder or not, we will always be a Duke something: a Duke student, Duke alum, a Duke community,” she said, adding that the Class of 2021 will be “bonded together over time no matter the distance.”
Iragavarapu concluded by saying that despite all the hardships, there is no one she would have rather gone through them with than her fellow seniors.
“Class of 2021, I would have never wanted to paint my face white and blue, make it through the 1 p.m. lunch rush in [the Brodhead Center] or stick white plastic Q-tips up my nose every week with anyone else but you.”
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