‘Duke nation’: Student speaker Priya Parkash reflects on transitions, Duke citizenship at 2022 Commencement

Editor’s note: Since publication, The Chronicle has reported that this speech bears striking resemblance to a student Commencement speech at Harvard University in 2014. 

Senior Priya Parkash compared Duke to a tiny island nation with citizens “ready to spur revolutions” in her speech at the 2022 Commencement ceremony. 

Parkash is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in statistical science and economics, along with a minor in religious studies. After graduating, she plans to pursue a career in management consulting and graduate studies in energy policy and international relations.

Parkash reflected on her journey as an international student from Pakistan and the numerous transitions the Class of 2022 endured during their four years at Duke. 

“It wasn't so long ago that I boarded an airplane from my country 12,346 kilometers away with my exactly 50 pound suitcase in tow, and found myself trotting around East Campus,” she began her speech, recalling the start of her journey at Duke. 

Parkash talked about how quickly time “rushed by” as her class moved from East Campus to West Campus, from Marketplace to the Brodhead Center, from Brodie Recreation Center to Wilson Recreation Center, and “from our tents in K-Ville into Cameron Indoor Stadium, to finally finding us in this field today, ready to walk out the doors of Duke University and into the world with our diplomas in hand,” she said. 

As Parkash reflected on her four years at Duke, she remarked that she started as a “young woman who was constantly overcome with the need to do more.” As she filled up her schedule with extracurriculars, fellowships, on-campus jobs, research and a social life, she questioned if she was doing enough to “make the most of this life-changing opportunity to attend Duke.” 

Throughout her time at Duke, Parkash put her need to constantly prove herself in the “back seat” and learned to appreciate Duke for the people, the diversity of perspective and the safe haven it provided her. 

Parkash dubbed the University “Duke nation,” saying that it has many similarities to a tiny island nation.

“If you put a big moat around [Duke’s] perimeter and filled that with water it could be its own tiny island nation, like Cuba or maybe even Sri Lanka,” Parkash said. 

For Parkash, the statue of James B. Duke on Abele Quad is Duke’s version of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

She went on to say that the Duke Alumni Association represents the “bubbly fleet of tax collectors” of the Internal Revenue Service. “We also have the equivalent of the Federal Reserve, DUMAC, which manages an endowment larger than the GDP of one-third of the countries in the world.”

As an international student, Parkash has interacted with customs at the bookends of each semester. She recounted the questions and responses she heard from U.S. customs officers when arriving at Duke: “First name? Last name? That doesn’t sound Pakistani enough, so how exactly did you concoct the scheme to be born to Pakistani parents? And how can you guarantee us that you will return to your country after giving us all your family's money over several years?” 

She said that before she returned home every semester she would “raid the Duke Store” and arrive at the airport “looking like the Blue Devil.” 

Her outfit consisted of a “Duke cap, Duke sweatshirt, Duke sweatpants, Duke sunglasses, Duke slides, and even Duke underwear,” and as soon as immigration officers saw that she “bled blue,” she said that they responded with, “Oh, you’re a Duke national. National security threat? Not you, come on in.”

Parkash said that when she was wearing Duke apparel, “the doors to this whole new world of possibilities flung wide open.” This was when she first comprehended and began to embrace her Duke citizenship.

As she did, “the concrete institutions melted into the background and the unseen wiring that holds our school together began to scream out loud.”

She said that administrator-led town halls, “painfully long” DSG Senate meetings, opinion pieces of The Chronicle and social justice petitions circulating around campus are all “burning evidence of the Duke nation.”

Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on the Class of 2022’s Duke experience, Parkash named the support and resilience of her fellow students as “evidence of the camaraderie and brotherhood running through the veins of Duke citizens.”

Today, Parkash sees herself as part of something bigger: the Duke nation. Sunday’s Commencement ceremony celebrates “the story of hundreds of my new countrymen and women sitting here today. Over the last four years, as the soles of our shoes have collected a world of experiences, we have all become this place in rather perplexing ways.”

Parkash concluded by saying that she hopes these experiences will “empower us to bring the best of Duke to our next port of call.” 

“I believe that we’re all ready—ready to spur revolutions in our own unique ways. And that adventure starts right here, right now, today.” 

Kathryn Thomas profile
Kathryn Thomas | News Editor

Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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