Duke’s icons are the people everyone knows—for their kindness, passion, talent or intellect. They’re the people who you’ll see surrounded by a crowd of adoring students on the quad or plastered across the television in your living room.
The icons on this year’s Chron15 list are athletes, staff, faculty and alumni who are beloved by the University community. They spread joy, knowledge and Blue Devil pride.
While home in England, she peacefully protested in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Her photo from the protest went viral. She traveled across the pond during a pandemic. She stayed in a one-person apartment in a foreign country where she “attended” class and only had social interaction with a team she had just met.
For any true freshman, this series of events could be overwhelming and daunting. For Duke field hockey freshman Darcy Bourne, the combined challenges ignited her passions. The England U21 National Squad member saw an opportunity to indulge in her new team and play the game she loves. While crafting her hockey skills and navigating her new environment, Darcy also saw an opportunity to continue to expand her social activism.
The ACC Freshman of the Year and team chosen Duke Co-Midfielder of the Year co-created a platform to help those who do not have the privilege of equality. “Beyond Our Game” (beyondourgame.com) connects people of all colors through sharing stories, sharing resumes, and offering resources to assist and promote education about the fight for equality.
While managing life through COVID-19, Darcy’s courage, and enthusiasm to not just to survive, but thrive has led her to an incredibly impressive first year. Darcy’s love for the game, her desire to be the best and her call to serve and help others are genuine and contagious. She has led the team to key wins on the field and has impacted our growth towards successful seasons to come. She has inspired our team to have regular conversations around social injustices and to share individual thoughts and impressions. Sharing our vulnerabilities has brought the group together at another level. We are grateful that Darcy chose Duke and after this past year her contributions have made Duke a better place. Darcy Bourne is Duke!
– Pamela Bustin, Duke field hockey head coach
As one of only two Blue Devil athletes to win a national championship since 2015, Jaravee Boonchant was a four-year standout for Duke women’s golf. The list of Boonchant’s accomplishments as a Blue Devil is without a doubt an impressive collection, one that puts her in rare air. Being a three-time All-ACC selection and a four-time All-American are accolades that not many have a claim to, and the IMG Academy alum also had the third-lowest stroke average in program history. Need I say more?
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boonchant was forced to remain in her native Thailand for an entire year, unable to return to Durham until this past March. The balancing act of taking online classes while in a totally different time zone, improving her golf game and staying connected with her teammates and coaches is certainly not for the faint of heart, but Boonchant managed to push through this unexpected obstacle. After all that, she helped Duke reach the semifinals of the NCAA Championship, then turned professional after four illustrious years as a Blue Devil.
– Max Rego, Vol. 117 sports managing editor
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Keith Upchurch and Nugget
You can spot them by the crowd of students who congregate around them. Keith Upchurch, Trinity ’72, and his golden retriever Nugget are one of the most recognizable duos at Duke. If the weather’s nice, you’ll find them stationed near the Brodhead Center, Upchurch smiling and chatting with students and Nugget doing Nugget things: nuzzling students, bounding back and forth or hunting down a squirrel.
Upchurch grew up in Durham and has a father, three uncles, three aunts and a cousin who are all former Blue Devils. After retiring from the Durham Herald Sun, Upchurch started bringing Nugget to campus in 2012. Nugget isn’t strictly a therapy dog, but Upchurch believes she plays an essential role in helping students de-stress.
“Nugget sort of absorbs stress and releases it into the atmosphere,” he said in a 2019 interview. “This is my volunteer work.”
Over the years, Upchurch has befriended many students. He often asks to take pictures with them and Nugget and then prints the photos eight by ten and stores them in a filing cabinet at home. He also regularly emails photos of Nugget to a lengthy student email list.
When the pandemic forced the University to move online in March 2020, Upchurch and Nugget spent more time alone by the Duke pond. But during fall 2020 and spring 2021, when more students returned to campus, the duo was back. And they’ll be there this fall, as some semblance of normality returns. Duke’s squirrels better beware.
– Chris Kuo, Vol. 117 enterprise editor
Mark Anthony Neal
As a self-described "Aggregator of Black Culture,” Mark Anthony Neal, James B. Duke distinguished professor of African and African American studies, is a true renaissance man.
Neal has nearly 38,000 Twitter followers on an account dedicated to holding elite institutions accountable for racial justice and uplifting the accomplishments of Black culture. He’s written articles published in The Washington Post, CNN, The Root, and The Undefeated, along with several books about Black masculinity, popular culture, and music.
Neal also hosts the widely viewed podcast Left of Black, now in its 11th season, which invites prominent Black intellectuals and public figures to discuss the African-American experience through progressive lenses of gender, sexuality, culture and arts.
Along with these impressive pursuits, Neal is an integral member of the Duke community. His students describe him as a legend and a genius, “incredibly well-versed in Black culture and history.” He’s an advocate for marginalized communities in and around Duke. As a speaker at an August Black Lives Matter protest in Krzyzewskiville, Neal has called for increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity in the student body and reckoning with Duke’s relationship with Durham stakeholders.
Neal embodies the core values of the Duke community: he’s engaged, empathetic, fearless, and innovative all at once.
– Anisha Reddy, Vol. 117 associate editor, news
If you’ve visited Pitchfork’s before 2 p.m. on a weekday, you know why everyone calls Micheala Lee the kindest person at Duke. Wearing her signature leather hat and metallic gold eyeliner, she joyfully greets everyone with a smile that radiates beyond the mask on her face.
Ever since Lee began working at Duke in February 2020, she’s worked hard to learn her customers’ names. (Her own name is pronounced mih-kay-LAY, not mih-kay-LUH, although she’s too kind to correct people who mispronounce it.) Last fall she set a goal to memorize the name of every student she served, and she could usually pair a name with a half-masked face after only a few visits.
Those who truly know Lee understand that beneath the bubbliness lies a complicated past. The single mother of three overcame a multitude of challenges to get where she is now. Today, though, she optimistically views each challenge as a learning opportunity, and every negative experience makes her more resilient.
This optimism that Lee exudes was a light during an isolating and abnormal year. Some students, like sophomores Tess DiMenna and Meredith Huston, would go to Pitchfork’s nearly every morning just to see Lee. Her presence was grounding—she always could tell when it was midterm season, and she offered words of encouragement and support that somehow made the day feel just a little brighter.
“She only has love and positivity for everybody,” DiMenna said. “And I think that's why she is so beloved by so many students, because it's such genuine care and love.”
It’s hard to imagine Pitchfork’s without Lee. Thankfully though, we won’t have to. The beloved Duke icon has no plans to leave anytime soon.
– Maya Miller, Vol. 116 staff reporter, news
To see the rest of this year's Chron15 selections, click here.