Durham, N.C. — With a turn of the tassel, more than 5,000 students became Duke University graduates Sunday during commencement ceremonies at the university's Wallace-Wade Stadium.
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead presided over the ceremony, and philanthropist Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told students to use technology to connect with the world around them.
"I want to encourage you to reject the cynics that say technology is flattening your experience of the world," Gates said. "The people who say that technology has disconnected you are wrong, but so are the people who say technology has automatically connected you. Technology is a tool, but deep human connection is very different."
Gates recounted her travels to numerous countries around the world with her work through the foundation she leads, telling students that they have a choice to impact the larger community.
"You can change the way you think about other people. You can choose to see their humanity first," Gates said. "We are finally creating the tools to turn the world into a neighborhood. You can light up a network of 7 billion people with long-lasting and highly-motivating human connections."
The university awarded about 1,641 bachelor's degrees and 2,215 master's and doctorate degrees Sunday, and another 1,212 students who graduated in the last year were also in attendance.
Andrew Barnhill, a master’s degree candidate at Duke Divinity School with a focus on American law, was the student speaker at Sunday's ceremony. Barnhill, a native of Wilmington, is chair of the Young Democrats of North Carolina for the state’s 7th Congressional District.
Gates also received an honorary degree during the ceremony.
Other honorary degree recipients are human rights activist Marguerite Barankitse; immune system scientist Max Cooper; archivist David S. Ferriero; Harvard professor of African-American history and literature Henry Louis Gates; investment manager William H. Gross; and choreographer Judith Jameson.
The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the economic impact of graduation weekend on Durham will be about $6.1 million, said Shelly Green, CEO of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau. The money will come from the sale of food, hotel rooms, retail items, gas, car rentals and entertainment, she said.