Assistant Professor Yitzhak Lewis at Commencement 2024

Yitzhak Lewis 
Assistant Professor of Humanities, Duke Kunshan University

Dear friends, distinguished guests, students, staff, faculty, graduating class of 2024,

I see some students looking each other like “who is that guy?”

The list of potential high profile speakers for today was a little short. When I heard Yao Ming was busy, I agreed to step up. Maybe next year?

But joking aside, it’s truly an honor to be standing here offering congratulatory remarks on the event of your graduation. 

Graduation is a special time, it marks an important moment in the lifecycle of a class of students. The culmination of your hard work and persistence over years of study. And we’re all here to celebrate that moment with you.

Graduation is a special moment in the lifecycle of the institution as well. It happens once a year, campus opens up. Family, friends, and guests come to celebrate. And this is also a time when the institution’s traditions are on display – a procession, an anthem, a party, a goodbye ceremony. As I stand here today to congratulate you, class of 2024, I have to wonder, we are such a young institution, do we even have a tradition? What is DKU’s tradition?

Looking around I see some Duke logos, some Duke guests, a Mace like the one in Duke graduations. Perhaps you may think that our tradition is the Duke tradition. But, we are not Duke, we are DKU, we cannot be satisfied by imitating Duke, and our tradition cannot be the Duke tradition. It inspires us, it informs us, but it is not ours. As our anthem states, 我们是 DKU, we are DKU.

Perhaps then you might think that only old institutions have a tradition. That DKU is too new, too young, that it doesn’t have a tradition. And yet, looking around at the caps and gowns, the flags, banners, this mace, I see that this is also not the case. We could not be holding this graduation event if we did not have a tradition.

What then is DKU’s tradition?

The answer is simple. I found it in Jorge Luis Borges. My students know that after a dissertation and a book about Borges, I find the answers to everything in Borges.

Everything we do belongs to the DKU tradition. Everything you will do, is, happily, the DKU tradition. DKU has a great tradition—OK maybe not the tradition of inviting a guest speaker more famous than me for commencement.

DKU has a great tradition, greater perhaps than the oldest institutions. It’s you.
Our students are our tradition. Ten years of graduates. Three undergraduate classes, exceeding our greatest expectations, is our tradition. Your success is our tradition. Your bright future is already our tradition.

So go out, yǒng wǎng zhí qián! (勇往直前)
Go out class of 2024,
Go out and be our beautiful DKU tradition.

Congratulating the class of 2024!

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