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Graduate School Celebrates Homecoming, Anniversary

October 4, 2016

Dancing
Dean Paula D. McClain (center) dances with a group of students during The Graduate School's homecoming
and 90th anniversary celebration at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

About 500 alumni, students, faculty, staff, and supporters gathered at The Graduate School's homecoming reception on September 30 to celebrate the school's 90th anniversary.

The school also honored the first inductees into its Few-Glasson Alumni Society during the reception, which was held at the Doris Duke Center at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The inaugural inductees were Martin Dempsey (A.M.'84 English), Linda George (Ph.D.'75 sociology), and Yibin Kang (Ph.D.'00 genetics).

The homecoming reception marked the culmination of a yearlong celebration of the 90th anniversary of The Graduate Year's founding. The school was established in 1926, two years after Duke University was created. William P. Few, the first president of Duke and a strong supporter of The Graduate School during its early years, wrote that "more perhaps than anything else here our Graduate School will determine the sort of University we are to have and its standing in the educational world."

Speaking at the reception, Paula D. McClain, dean of the school, reflected on the school's history, some of its notable alumni, and the influence the school's graduates have had on the world.

"We are a school of students," McClain said. "Our success is defined by the success of our students at Duke and beyond."

Few-Glasson honorees
Few-Glasson honorees (from left) Martin Dempsey,
Linda George, and Yibin Kang.

The attendees also heard remarks from Dempsey, one of the Few-Glasson honorees and a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey shared his thoughts on leadership and reflected on his time as a master's student at Duke. [See excerpts of his remarks]

"I can’t tell you how many times during my career I have been asked somewhat skeptically, 'Did the study of literature make you a better leader?' " Dempsey said.

"My answer has been the same through the years: I say, 'I will leave it to others to decide if the study of literature made me a better leader, but I know it made me a better person, and that seems to me to be the most important leadership attribute."

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Excerpts of Martin Dempsey's Remarks

I am pleased to be here with the Few-Glasson Alumni Society as you celebrate the 90th anniversary of The Graduate School. 

I know I speak for my fellow honorees Linda and Yibin in saying we are deeply honored to be named Distinguished Graduates. As we say here in the South, that’s standing among some tall cotton!

I’m sure that, like me, most of you have thought at some time or another about how unimaginably complex the last 90 years have been. But that’s the challenge that the Duke’s Graduate School embraces, isn’t it—to provide our students the education necessary to deal with the unimaginably complex in the next 90 years.

I speak for all of us in thanking Dean McClain in particular but also the staff and faculty of The Graduate School. 

Not sure if any of you have heard of the story about what happens as an Army officer progresses through the ranks. 

As the story goes, when you make Major, they take away your mouth; when you make Colonel they take away your brain; and when you make General they give you back your mouth.

Not sure about that, but when I was asked by the dean to give these remarks tonight, she told me that I had 15 minutes to tell us what I know about leadership. I said to her, “how can I possibly tell you everything I know about leadership in 15 minutes.”  She replied, “Speak very slowly.”    

I can’t tell you how many times during my career I have been asked somewhat skeptically, “Did the study of literature make you a better leader?”

My answer has been the same through the years: I say, “I will leave it to others to decide if the study of literature made me a better leader, but I know it made me a better person, and that seems to me to be the most important leadership attribute.” 

Linda and Yibin. Sociologist and research scientist. Aging and cancer. I’ve had some experience with both. Thanks both for what you’ve done and for what you continue to do. You are great examples to all who aspire not only to be successful but to be leaders of consequence for their fellow man. 

...

I am undoubtedly the only one among us with a "C" on my graduate school résumé. ... In any case, I echo the words of former President George W. Bush during a commencement address at Southern Methodist University: "To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions today, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States."  Or a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff.

So how does that happen?

Roots. An immigrant's spirit. Grounded. Optimistic. Resilient.

Tenacity. A warrior's heart. Passionately inquisitive. Courage—especially moral courage—under duress. Speak truth to power. 

Humility. A servant's soul. Mindful. Compassionate. “When is the last time you allowed someone to change your mind about something?

...

Advice:

1.  Bloom where you are planted. Do what you can and do it well wherever you find yourself … and opportunity will find you. History might even find you. You never know.

2.  Never quit. "Whether you think you can or that you cannot, you are usually right." — Henry Ford.

3.  Never give up on your fellow man. We are so much more alike than we are different. We need each other. As a cancer survivor, I learned that we accomplish nothing in life by ourselves.

Everyone in this room has been given the gift of a liberal education. Tonight is another opportunity to think about how we are using that gift.

Thank you.