A sold-out crowd of Duke University alumni, parents and friends filled Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts when Duke Forward came to the city on Friday, April 26. The event, part of the campaign’s On the Road series, was the largest Duke gathering ever held in the New York area. It showcased outstanding student experiences, classes, research, and faculty while celebrating the Duke community.
The keynote program, and a highlight for many attendees, was a conversation between Duke president Richard Brodhead and Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, the Duke professor and medical researcher who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2012. The afternoon program featured lectures and demonstrations by faculty and students from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences about the connection between creativity and the brain, a course by theology professor Jeremy Begbie on the intrinsic link between music and spirituality, and a panel of students discussing their meaningful experiences in some of Duke’s most innovative and hands-on programs.
Brodhead and Lefkowitz entertained the capacity crowd with a discussion that covered Lefkowitz’s childhood in the Bronx, his passion for mentoring students, and his “fairy tale” experience accepting his Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Sweden. Lefkowitz, who grew up wanting to be a physician and found a passion for research after coming to Duke, drew belly laughs as he told of being asked to join the American Chemical Society—the nation’s most prestigious professional organization for chemists—after winning the Nobel for chemistry. He inspired in equal parts, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy: “Happiness is the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.” Lefkowitz expressed his pleasure in sharing the Nobel Prize with his former postdoctoral student Brian Kobilka, saying that he was extremely gratified to have taught Kobilka to make “full use of his powers.”
The evening concluded with a “strolling supper” during which attendees socialized with the day’s speakers, Duke faculty and students, and alumni friends from the area.
“It was a great opportunity to see other Duke alumni, some of whom I haven’t seen since graduation, and some of whom I didn’t know were in the city,” said Sonja Hellstrom ’08.
“How often do you hear a Nobel laureate speak?” said Karl Wellner P’13, one of the co-chairs of the Duke Forward in New York host committee. “It is inspirational, it’s exciting, it’s fun.”
The next “On the Road” event is Saturday, June 1, in Washington, D.C., followed by London on Saturday, June 22. Previous celebrations in Atlanta and San Francisco were the largest ever for Duke in their respective regions.
A few highlights of Duke Forward in New York:
Collaboration, philanthropy, and alternate uses for bricks at the “Brain Science and Our Creative Culture” session by faculty and students from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Undergraduate Elizabeth Beam ’13 explained how creating alternate uses for objects tests novel thinking. For example, a brick could be a planter, a weapon, or a paperweight.
DIBS director Michael Platt discussed how one’s attitude toward life affects the willingness to be philanthropic, and how creativity flourishes when people work together. “When I tell colleagues at other schools what we're doing at Duke, they can't believe it,” Platt said. “They're amazed.”
Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology, enlightened participants in his “What’s So Spiritual About Music?” course about why certain songs make them feel sad or wistful. (It’s a combination of notes, first dissonant and then pleasant, known as an appoggiatura.) Begbie described music as “the freight train in which God travels” and discussed how it brings together people of radically different backgrounds and beliefs.
Using his piano and recorded samples, Begbie showed how a complex interplay of musical notes can express guilt and innocence in the same piece of music—occasionally at the same time. And he gave historic examples of how dance has built bonds of trust between unfamiliar peoples.
In “Classrooms Without Walls,” Andrew Janiak, Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Philosophy, led a discussion with five inspirational students who have cultivated career and research interest through meaningful co-curricular learning opportunities at Duke. From pursuing global health field work in Haiti to co-founding a local environmental start-up company, student achievements were marked by collaboration and social consciousness.
Fuqua Ph.D. candidate Esther Sackett ’16 noted that experience outside of the classroom is essential to student learning because “it builds skills in flexibility and adaptability”—skills necessary in today’s careers.
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