DKU Comes of Age with First Undergrad Class Commencement

More than 380 degrees were awarded today at the commencement of Duke Kunshan University’s inaugural undergraduate class and its master’s cohort, marking a major milestone in the Sino-U.S. institution’s short history.

Class of 2022 students from across the world were conferred their degrees in ceremonies held simultaneously in China and the United States.

The commencement was the first to include both undergraduate and postgraduate students since Duke Kunshan was founded in 2013 as a joint venture partnership between Duke University, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan.

DKU students attending the U.S. commencement ceremony

Duke University President Emeritus Richard H. Brodhead congratulated DKU’s Class of 2022 four years after welcoming them to the university he was instrumental in establishing.

“You rose to every challenge, you have made DKU known around the world through your achievements, and now you are ready to go stake out a bright future for yourselves,” Brodhead, who is also honorary chancellor of Duke Kunshan, told students. 

“Every part of the globe needs good people to help make a better world for all. Go do your part,” he added.

Duke University President Emeritus Richard Brodhead

With the COVID-19 situation preventing an in-person ceremony, celebrations in Kunshan were largely held online, although Class of 2022 students were allowed to gather on campus if they met certain pandemic-related conditions.

At the same time, a live ceremony was staged at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, with DKU students present.

After four years of study, 234 undergraduates were conferred bachelor’s degrees from both Duke Kunshan and Duke universities. The 151 postgraduates were awarded their master’s degrees by Duke.

A handful of the graduating Class of 2022 students

A number of students have secured Rhodes, Schwarzman, Yenching and other globally competitive scholarships, with many of the class destined for further study at elite universities including Duke, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and Peking. Others are launching careers at top companies such as Deloitte, Huawei, McKinsey & Co, Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Tencent

Eleven speakers marked the momentous occasion from 8:30 a.m. (Beijing time) on Friday, May 20, 2022, including leaders of Duke Kunshan, Duke and Wuhan universities, senior Chinese government officials and two graduating students.

Chancellor Youmei Feng presents the graduation certificates

Duke Kunshan Chancellor Youmei Feng praised the courage of the undergraduate class for daring to break new ground at a fledgling university and the significant academic and cultural contributions from master’s students.

“You now have an international perspective, an awareness of global cultures, the capacity for international leadership and a strong sense of social responsibility,” she said to the Class of 2022.

Interim Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Francis

In her remarks, DKU’s Interim Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Francis told students, “I hope that you will continue to be guided by the spirit of innovation, collaboration and global engagement, and the pursuit of knowledge.”

The Class of 2022’s Wanying He and Bihui Huang spoke as the student representatives.

Wanying He

“People called us pioneers, and now we, the Class of 2022, know what that really meant,” He said. “It meant that no matter what challenges came our way, we’d face them with courage and conviction. It meant we’d never settle for just being good but would strive to become great.”

Huang said, “Unfortunately, our time on campus was cut short because of the pandemic, but as it continues to build borders and distances between us, we still have managed to nurture the relationships we built for ourselves. This is what I think is our best achievement.”

Bihui Huang (centre)

Also addressing the event were Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang and Secretary of the CPC Kunshan Municipal Committee Zhou Wei, with officials from China’s Ministry of Education and the Jiangsu Provincial Department of Education among the guests.

“I hope that after graduation, you will continue to pursue your dreams and help others pursue theirs, and I also hope that you will become envoys of China-U.S. friendship,” Qin said.

Ambassador Qin Gang

President of Westlake University Yigong Shi was a keynote speaker along with Brodhead.

“As the first cohort of DKU graduates, you will set the benchmark,” Shi said. “The fact that you chose DKU four years ago already illustrates your courage and vision.”

The commencement featured the world premiere of DKU’s Alma Mater “With Voices Raised”, sung in English and then Chinese by the DKU Chorale.

Class of 2022 students gathered on the Kunshan campus, as well as in the U.S.

In a surprise gesture, it was also announced that a room in the Academic Building on campus had been renamed the “Class of 2022 Room” in recognition of the group’s unique role in shaping the culture of the DKU community.

Based in the liberal arts and sciences tradition, DKU programs instill critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and exploration in students, who benefit from the university’s research hub status and the expertise of world-class faculty.

Members of DKU faculty

The university provides a truly international learning environment, preparing students not just for careers in specific fields but to become globally sophisticated leaders and citizens. 

More highlights from the commencement speeches:

“When we launched Duke Kunshan University, our greatest aspiration was to give talented students the opportunity to grow as scholars and global citizens, and prepare for lives of principle and purpose. This great Class of 2022 is the ultimate fulfillment of those aspirations.” 

Vincent E. Price, President of Duke University

Duke University President Vincent Price

“I hope that you will set your eyes on the world, take on the biggest challenges it offers, enhance your understanding of mankind’s common destiny, promote social progress and make significant contributions to our shared future that are worthy of the times.”

Xiankang Dou, President of Wuhan University

“Wherever you are in the world, you will always be the pride of Kunshan; wherever you go, Kunshan will always be your warm harbor. You are welcome home anytime!”

Zhou Wei, Secretary of the CPC Kunshan Municipal Committee

“Thank you for putting your trust in us.  You leave here today as successful scholars, young adults ready to take your place in the world.  While we may be geographically divided, we remain DKUnited.  “Regardless of where in the world you are — or will be — we stand with you. You will always be part of us.”

Marcia B. France, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies & the Language and Culture Center, Duke Kunshan University

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