Freshmen urged to think across boundaries as pioneering peers steer course for success

By DKU Staff

Although separated across borders and time zones, Duke Kunshan students, leaders, faculty and staff united online on Aug. 17 to welcome the incoming Class of 2025 at this year’s undergraduate opening convocation.

Under the theme “Together We Succeed,” the ceremony not only celebrated the arrival of the fourth graduating class but also started the countdown to graduation for seniors in the inaugural Class of 2022.

The Class of 2025 has 397 students, with 240 from the Chinese mainland, six from Taiwan and 151 international students from about 40 countries including Australia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United States and Vietnam. This year, the university received its first undergraduates from Denmark, Ecuador, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Sudan, Singapore, Tajikistan, Uganda and Yemen.

The new cohort takes the total number of undergraduates at Duke Kunshan to more than 1,300, representing more than 60 countries across six continents. International students account for more than 30 percent.

Convocation speakers drawn from the university leadership, students and faculty encouraged freshmen to pursue mental growth and purpose, to think across boundaries, and to seek inspiration and support from their pioneering upperclassmen.

Chancellor Youmei Feng makes the opening remarks

Marcia France, dean of undergraduate studies, was master of ceremonies for the opening convocation

“Growth is a commitment to yourself,” said Chancellor Youmei Feng in her opening remarks. “Growth is certainly fun, but it is not always easy, requiring you to overcome one challenge after another. ‚Ķ Experiencing setbacks and pain is a necessary path to mental growth.”

She said young scholars should aspire to learn the skills that get things done and deliver results. A sense of meaning comes from within, Feng added, as she called on students to “become their own beacon of light.”

Restrictions on international and domestic travel in response to Covid-19 meant students based abroad or outside Kunshan have been unable to arrive on campus for the start of the fall semester. Freshmen in the Chinese mainland will study remotely for several weeks, while those overseas could choose to receive online instruction, study away at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, or study away at one of the many DKU-approved programs worldwide. The university is making every effort to return international students to China as quickly as possible.

In a video message recorded for the convocation, Duke President Vincent Price described the incoming undergraduates as “pioneers in one of the world’s most exciting new educational initiatives,” and he expressed his confidence that they will help shape a better future.

“There will be challenges along the way, and the expected complications of beginning university life in these strange circumstances. So don’t try to take on too much at once,” he said. “Be sure to take time for renewal and reflection. And always remember to enjoy yourself.”

Xiankang Dou, president of Wuhan University, also sent a congratulatory letter to the Class of 2025 in which he encouraged students to learn and grow through tolerance, cultural exchanges and mutual learning.

Anthropology professor Keping Wu

Keping Wu, associate professor of anthropology at Duke Kunshan, delivered an address as faculty speaker. She expressed her hope that newly arriving students will approach university life with intellectual curiosity.

“When you encounter people, values or cultures that are different from your own at DKU, I urge you to be curious, to reach out, to get a better understanding before making a judgment, and to empathize,” she said. “There is only one college experience for you to look back on. I hope that all of you will be proud of yourselves in the future.”

Acknowledging the circumstances in which young scholars worldwide have found themselves, Hung Quoc Nguyen, student representative for the Class of 2025, said Covid-19 had proved how quickly things can turn upside-down. He encouraged his classmates to be forward-thinkers, citing a prediction that 85 percent of the jobs that will be available in 2030 do not even exist yet. “We have to prepare ourselves to be adaptive and agile,” he said.

Yixuan Wu, representative of the Class of 2024

Hung Quoc Nguyen, representative of the Class of 2025, appears via video message

Yixuan Wu, student representative for the Class of 2024, shared that her first-year experience at Duke Kunshan had opened her eyes to a “beautifully complex world” and showed her the importance of crossing boundaries in knowledge and disciplines. How we categorize ourselves can divide us, she said, adding that at DKU, students learn to breakdown stereotypes and embrace other cultures.

Making the closing remarks, Scott MacEachern, vice chancellor for academic affairs, welcomed incoming students to the university’s diverse community and praised faculty members for their resilience and commitment over the past 18 months, highlighting the immense effort they had invested into designing and teaching hybrid courses.

Duke Kunshan has continued to add new faculty to keep pace with the growth in student numbers. The undergraduate faculty will eventually comprise about 185 professors, instructors and lecturers, and visiting Duke professors.

Scott MacEachern, vice chancellor for academic affairs, makes the closing remarks

MacEachern also spoke on preparations for the Class of 2022’s senior year, which have included Pathways to Success, a program that ensures every student thinks specifically and intentionally about their postgraduate plans by providing tailored counseling and follow-up actions. The inaugural class will graduate in May with dual degrees from Duke Kunshan and Duke University.

“This is always a bittersweet time for university faculty and staff, as young people who they have gotten to know over four years get ready to leave,” said MacEachern, a professor of archaeology and anthropology, who joined Duke Kunshan in 2018 as part of the first cohort of undergraduate faculty.

“For those of you in the Class of 2025, our seniors will be your friends, and sometimes your mentors — and always the people who have gone first and figured out how the pathways through the curriculum, and to graduation, actually work,” he said. “It may seem far in the future, but I can assure you that you will be in their place, as seniors, before you know it.”


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