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Chambers to speak at graduation

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Graduates at this year’s commencement ceremonies will hear from a speaker who is a philanthropist, a politician and a prominent businessman.

President Richard Brodhead announced to a select group of students Friday that Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers will deliver the graduation speech May 15. In addition to serving as the chairman and CEO of the communication and information technology company, Chambers has worked for former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and was involved in social responsibility efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 earthquake in China.

“I am delighted that John Chambers will be Duke’s commencement speaker this year,” Brodhead said in a press release. “John has been a leader in an industry requiring constant innovation that has contributed to the connectivity of modern life. His commitment to global citizenship and corporate responsibility will inspire our students as they contemplate their future directions.”

Brodhead selected Chambers to deliver the speech after the commencement speaker student advisory committee presented him with a “lengthy list” of candidates in the Fall. The committee began convening to compile the list at the end of last academic year said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, who added that this year the University sought a speaker committed to the mission and goals of the University who also had a connection to Duke.

Chambers attended the Pratt School of Engineering from 1967-1968 before transferring to West Virginia University to receive a degree in business.

Senior Stephanie Chang, who served on the speaker selection committee, said she was happy to hear that the selected speaker comes from the tech industry. She added that many previous commencement speakers have come from fields like public policy, she is glad to see variation in the selection of the speaker.

“I am an engineer, and I was pretty excited to hear that a tech speaker was coming,” Chang said. “The fact that he does have a Duke connection was the key factoring—he would be able to have something of a more personalized commencement speech for Duke.”

Cisco Systems, a multinational corporation based in the Silicon Valley, is one of the world’s biggest technology corporations. The company’s annual revenues have grown from $1.2 billion to $40 billion since Chambers took over as CEO in 1995. Chambers has received a number of accolades, including being named one of BusinessWeek’s “Top 25 Executives Worldwide,” one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” and one of Barron’s “World’s Most Respected CEOs.”

“John Chambers is one of the great American success stories in business who is pretty widely known and respected for his involvement in the greater society,” Schoenfeld said.

Chambers received the Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2007 in addition to the U.S. State Department’s top corporate social responsibility award from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

At Duke, Chambers was also a panelist at the celebration of the opening of the Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences in 2004 and spoke at the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges in March 2010.

Chambers has made several commencement speeches in recent years, speaking at Santa Clara University last year. Chambers has also been known to have a somewhat non-traditional speaking style at past commencements—when delivering the address at University of the Pacific in 2007, Chambers left the podium to walk through the graduates while delivering his speech, without the help of notes.

During the speech, Chambers spoke about the importance of adapting to life changes and the need for social responsibility in business.

“You will not achieve what you are capable of in life unless you reach out and give it a try,” Chambers said. “As you take risks you will periodically fail. That will make you stronger.”

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