Embrace the diversity of the community, venture outside your comfort zone, be intellectually curious and make time for the people you care about.
Those were the key messages delivered on Tuesday (Aug. 16) to the hundreds of students from 36 countries starting life at Duke Kunshan University as part of the Class of 2026, its fifth undergraduate cohort.
DKU leaders, faculty and staff — as well as the presidents of Duke University and Wuhan University — welcomed the students at opening convocation, inviting them to seek out fresh challenges as they embark on the four-year bachelor’s degree program.
Duke Kunshan Chancellor Youmei Feng told students that their ambitions and achievements would be closely tied to the fate and fortune of humankind this century.
“May you live up to the times, be a thinker, a promoter and a practitioner in the harmonious development of the world, and make the world a better place,” she said at the ceremony.
The Class of 2026 is made up of 358 undergraduates, with 240 from the Chinese mainland, six from Taiwan and 112 international students from countries including the United States, Austria, Italy, Brazil, South Korea, Kenya and Vietnam.
For the first time, DKU welcomed students from nations including Honduras, Indonesia, Lebanon, Slovakia and Hungary.
Themed “Learning Beyond Borders”, convocation was held this year on the Duke Kunshan campus in Jiangsu province and livestreamed across the world to international students who are initially based overseas for their studies.
Also addressing the students were DKU’s Interim Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Francis, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Scott MacEachern and Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Intercultural Communication Xin Zhang, as well as students Kendi Miriti and Chengxi Yin.
Duke University President Vincent E. Price and Wuhan University President Xiankang Dou shared advice on how to approach university life through letters read out to students.
Francis encouraged the new students to “take a chance” on exploring subjects and activities that had never previously been on their radar.
“Be curious about subjects that are new, and be curious about your classmates’ and faculty members’ interests and backgrounds,” she said.
“Although it can be intimidating to try new subjects and activities, I assure you that DKU is a supportive environment in which to step outside of your comfort zone, and I feel confident your explorations will lead you to something great.”
International students will start their terms at overseas locations such as the Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina, and DKU’s global site in Barcelona, Spain, because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Efforts to bring the students to the Duke Kunshan campus are ongoing.
In a video address, Miriti, from Kenya, inspired her fellow Class of 2026 classmates with a rallying call to make the most of the years ahead.
“Drawn from all over the world, it is our time to learn and unlearn,” Miriti said.
“To learn and appreciate other cultures, religions, ways of dressing and unique accents, and unlearn stereotypes, historical injustices and racial supremacy.
“DKU is a perfect opportunity to forge new relationships, build a shared commitment to humanity and global innovation.”
Wishing the new students all the best, rising sophomore student Yin urged them to open their minds to the wider world.
“What waits for us at the end of this exploration is a brand-new version of ourselves,” she said.
Duke Kunshan is a Sino-U.S. joint-venture university, founded in 2013 by a partnership of Duke University, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan.
Established in the liberal arts and sciences tradition, DKU’s undergraduate program is based on an integrated and multidisciplinary curriculum that blends Chinese and American learning techniques within a truly global perspective.
Like their predecessors, students from the Class of 2026 have the option in their junior year of spending a summer and semester at Duke’s campus in the U.S. On graduating, they will receive degrees from both Duke and Duke Kunshan.
DKU completed its first four-year cycle of undergraduates with the commencement in May of the Class of 2022.
Many alumni of that inaugural undergraduate class are now pursuing further study at elite universities such as Duke, Harvard, Yale and Cambridge, with several securing Rhodes, Schwarzman and other prestigious scholarships.
Others are starting their careers at major firms such as Tencent, Huawei, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company.
In closing remarks, MacEachern said the university is watching proudly as Class of 2022 students begin the next phase of their lives.
“Before you know it, students of the Class of 2026 will be looking forward to graduation as well — I guarantee you that will come fast — and I know that you will make us just as proud,” he said.
Words of wisdom from convocation:
“With all of the excitement and opportunities on campus, remember to take some time to take care of yourself. To be at your best here, you have to first invest in your health and wellness. Make time for exercise, eating right, and having fun with friends.”
Vincent E. Price, president of Duke University
“Seize those opportunities to engage diverse perspectives, embrace the growth and changes they bring in you, and as you do so push and break the boundaries, real or imagined, to generate new and pluralistic identities, values and practices.”
Xin Zhang, assistant professor at DKU
“Like DKU, you were all born at the right time to shoulder the responsibility of building a community of shared future for all humankind, enhancing intercultural understanding across nations and participating in solving humanity’s common problems.”
Xiankang Dou, president of Wuhan University
“Explore! Take classes in subjects you never considered before. Be open to new things. Plan — but plan in pencil.”
Marcia B. France, DKU’s associate vice chancellor for undergraduate studies and the language and culture center