Duke graduates asked to ‘make it matter’ during commencement

jneff@newsobserver.comMay 11, 2014 

— Under a cloudless, blue sky, Duke University sent forth into the world a small army of undergraduates, doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, ministers and Ph.D.s.

Some 15,000 graduates, professors, family and friends filled the east half of Wallace Wade Stadium, toasting under the summery sun.

By the numbers: 1,656 undergraduate degrees; 2,299 graduate degrees, including doctors, lawyers and Ph.D.s,

Boss 1: The commencement address was given by the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who received a master’s degree in history from Duke in 1984.

Dempsey’s theme: “Make It Matter,” a phrase written on a small wood box atop his desk in the Pentagon. Inside are 129 laminated cards, each with a photo of the soldiers who died in Iraq under his command in 2003-2004.

“You will need to find, fix and be true to your moral compass, or else you will find yourself paralyzed. … You’ll quickly become too busy to give each moment the value it deserves, too driven to lead personally, too confident to be inquisitive, too certain to be approachable. … Make it matter.”

Boss 2: Rock icon Bruce Springsteen blended into the crowd to watch his daughter, Jessica Rae Springsteen, receive her undergraduate degree.

Upping the auntie ante: The whole family turned out for law graduate Tannieka Minott: cousins, uncles, siblings and aunts from around the country. Her father, Gladston Minott, a Jamaican immigrant, said he was beyond proud. “I don’t even know how to describe how I feel.”

Best Mother’s Day anecdote: Dempsey recalled stopping at a gas station in upstate New York soon after he was promoted to the rank of general. The gas station owner was a former high school boyfriend of Dempsey’s wife, Deanie. As they drove away, Dempsey proudly told his wife that she had made a good choice, landing the general and not the gas station owner. Deanie’s reply: “If I’d have married Bobby, he’d have been the general and you’d be pumping gas.”

Snow ’em and poem: Cultural anthropology major Jennifer Sherman recalled the first snow of freshman year, when the dorm emptied on East Campus and students made snow angels in the half-inch of snow: “People who had never seen snow were crying for joy.” Sherman also recalled poet Maya Angelou telling her freshman class to always carry a poem. While working with refugees in Nepal she remembered a favorite line from the Roman poet and former slave Terence. “I am a human being. Nothing that is human can be alien to me.”

Judicious: Fourteen judges received master’s degrees, including N.C. Supreme Court Justices Barbara Jackson and retired justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson; state Court of Appeals judges Robert N. Hunter and Donna Stroud; and Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin of Durham.

It being Duke … : Gen. Dempsey led the crowd in a “Let’s go Duke!” chant and got in a dig at fans of the Tar Heels who whine about basketball referees. After UNC graduate and UNC President Emeritus Erskine Bowles received an honorary degree, Duke President Richard Brodhead noted how well Bowles looked in Duke blue.

Neff: 919-829-4516

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