Graduation joy for Class of 2023 at DKU Commencement

More than 400 degrees were awarded on Friday as Duke Kunshan University celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2023, a diverse and talented group of changemakers, innovators and leaders.

Chancellor Youmei Feng told the Duke Kunshan Commencement Ceremony 2023 that the stories and achievements of the 276 undergraduate and 131 master’s students receiving their degrees are “seared in our hearts and written in the history of our university”.

Held on the Phase 2 campus, a 47-acre state-of-the-art expansion which opened this week, the outdoor ceremony was the first commencement for both undergraduates and graduates to be staged before a live audience of family, friends and supporters after the COVID-19 pandemic forced last year’s event online.

The students collecting their degrees have already received hundreds of offers between them for further study at universities such as Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National University of Singapore and Yale, while the likes of Amazon, TikTok, AstraZeneca, Bloomberg and other top employers have made job offers.

Addressing the ceremony on the freshly laid lawn of the Academic Quad, a new green space connecting phases 1 and 2 of campus, were Chancellor Feng, student speakers Emma Lee and Zhijie Zhou, and Dr. Renee Richer, who gave the faculty speech.

Never stop learning

Feng said she holds a special place in her heart for everyone who graduated.

“Over the past few years, you have made great efforts to overcome the pandemic, build the university’s culture and promote the development of DKU,” she told the students.

“Your stories, your journeys and your achievements will always be imprinted in your memories, seared in our hearts and written in the history of the university.”

She called on the students to live meaningful and principled lives of community service and to never stop learning and upskilling in an era of the internet of everything and artificial intelligence.

“Education is no longer a ‘one-time’ learning process for young people, and lifelong learning has become inevitable,” Feng said.

“You need to keep thinking independently and be able to rationally identify specious ideas. You need to keep your respect and reverence for the world and human beings, so that the questions and concerns you raise have value and emotional strength.”

Stand and be recognized

During her Duke Commencement address in the United States on May 14, Interim Provost of Duke University Dr. Jennifer Francis, who is also chair of the Duke Kunshan Board of Trustees, congratulated DKU’s graduating students.

“I also want to take a moment to celebrate the members of the Class of 2023 of Duke Kunshan University,” she told the ceremony in North Carolina.

“The undergraduates among them will receive their degrees in a special ceremony later this month. I ask them to stand now to be recognized as members of the Duke University community.”

About 30 alumni were also at the DKU ceremony on Friday morning representing the Class of 2022, the inaugural undergraduate cohort, many of whom could not be in Kunshan for graduation last year. Members of that class have gone on to great things since leaving Duke Kunshan.

Conversely, Class of 2023 students who could not be in Kunshan this summer were able to watch online.

The Class of 2023: second to none

Lee from the Class of 2023 delivered the undergraduate student speech in which she spoke of being a “second-place expert” as the second-born child of her family, a second-generation Chinese immigrant and now part of Duke Kunshan’s second undergraduate class.

“Among those graduating today are innovators, comedians, researchers and future leaders,” the global health (public policy) major said.

“We are second to none in our passion for pursuing what we love, in our academic rigor, and in our desire to leave DKU a better place than when we arrived.

“All of us have made an impact on DKU’s history, and we can be proud of what we have achieved.”

We can all build a better world

Graduate student speaker Zhijie Zhou, from the master of environmental policy program, said the Class of 2023 is leaving Duke Kunshan with a “sense of accomplishment and confidence”.

“As we move forward in our careers, let us remember the lessons we have learned here at Duke Kunshan,” said Zhou, from Liaoning province in China.

“Let us remember the importance of collaboration, of working together to solve complex problems, and just keeping on moving forward, one step at a time.

“Let us also remember the importance of citizen responsibility, of applying our knowledge and skills in service and making a difference to our community.

“Whether it’s through volunteering, advocacy, or simply being a good citizen with a sense of service and support, we can all take action and lead to a better world.”

With voices raised

Friday’s ceremony started at 10 a.m. with an academic procession of the chancellor’s platform party, teaching and administrative faculty and the Class of 2023.

Leading the procession, and making its commencement debut, was the Duke Kunshan mace, a symbolic and ceremonial artefact embodying DKU’s identity as a Sino-American partnership between Wuhan University, Duke University and Kunshan city, as well as its global education mission and interdisciplinary spirit.

Students Weiran Li, Zaiying Yang, Chenhao Hsu, Neil Kelly and Iris Parshley were selected as gonfaloniers to carry gonfalons, or ceremonial banners, representing their class during the procession.

DKU’s alma mater “With Voices Raised” was performed between the commencement speeches and conferral of degrees.

Scared of bears? Get to know your fear

Richer, an associate professor of biology, used her congratulatory remarks to encourage students to face their own fears, just as she had sought, as a wildlife biologist, to overcome her fear of bears.

“I couldn’t spend time in the field or be in the forest alone because I was afraid they would attack me, making a future as a wildlife biologist seem impossible,” she told the ceremony.

“I faced a decision. A decision to give up and find a new path or find a way to manage my fear. I decided to spend a summer trapping and blow-darting black bears in the mountains of North Carolina.”

Richer returned to campus with her fear dissipated and her world broadened with new opportunities.

“As you leave DKU and enter your own new world, I suggest that you move toward your own fear,” she said to students.

“Get to know it. Examine it up close. Smell it, embrace it. It may be a class you’ve been avoiding, a conversation you need to have or a decision you need to make. 

“Run toward your fear and watch your world expand and new opportunities appear.”

You can read more about the Class of 2023 on our commencement website.

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