The sun was blazing, the path underfoot muddy and slippery as the small group of Duke Engage students trudged through a Tanzanian village on their way to a picturesque waterfall.
The two-hour trek had been an adventure in isolation until a native boy, maybe six years old, appeared along the path. His T-shirt read "Duke University."
"The kid just came out of nowhere," recalls Roshan Sadanani, a Duke senior chosen to be this year's student commencement speaker. "It was eye-opening, a really cool experience, seeing something so familiar in an unfamiliar place."
Sadanani will recount this anecdote as part of a speech focusing on the many ways the college experience makes the world smaller and more comfortable.
Commencement is at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 13, at Wallace Wade Stadium. Author and journalist Fareed Zakaria will give the main commencement speech.
Sadanani was selected by a committee that asks finalists to submit and deliver a prepared speech.
"Our goal, as a committee, is to have a speaker and a speech that will resonate with the audience and capture their attention in an engaging way," says Sterly Wilder, associate vice president for alumni affairs and chair of the committee. "We felt that Roshan's speech did this and did it well."
A Charlotte native, Sadanani will graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering from the Pratt School of Engineering.
At Duke, Sadanani has kept busy. He's been particularly active within Pratt, where this year he has served as a teaching assistant for a required undergraduate course, and where he also gives tours to prospective students.
And he is a longtime member of Duke's debate team, a passion since high school that prompted him to apply to be the student commencement speaker. The speech, he says, is a chance to leverage the communications skills he's honed during debates.
For Sadanani, the world is smaller and more familiar today than it was four years ago. The Tanzania trip provided one such small-world moment. Another came when the men's basketball team won the 2010 national championship and thousands of students poured onto West Campus quad to feed a bonfire in celebration.
Sadanani's dorm room overlooked the festivities, and the view was priceless. He still has photos on his phone from that memorable night -- not that he needs them. The memories aren't going anywhere.
"You could just feel the passion and the unity," he says. "You didn't know everybody, but we had something in common."
After graduation, Sadanani is heading off to Washington, D.C., where he'll work in management consulting for IBM. Eventually, he plans to go back to school for his MBA.
Wherever he goes, he'll remember that young Tanzanian boy and the moment it provided for him.
"Duke does a great job of making us globally aware," he says. "But sometimes it's the small things that flip the switch for you."