This year, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences welcomes 1300 students into the Duke graduating class of 2023, including Trinity senior Kyle-Brandon Denis as student commencement speaker. These students have endured challenges across the last four years and finished by excelling in their chosen majors, minors and certificate programs. Hailing from more than 35 different departments and programs, we are proud to introduce you to a few of these exceptional students as they embark on the next stage of their Forever Duke journey.
When Preetha Ramachandran went to Togo last summer with Professor Charlie Piot’s Duke Engage program, she wasn’t expecting to experiment with a new methodology for fieldwork. She was looking for a way to combine her two majors, Cultural Anthropology and Neuroscience, into a research project that drew on her interests in both disciplines.
“I wanted to think about the psychiatry apparatus as it operates globally,” she said, “and I wanted to critique it with the tools I've learned in my Cultural Anthropology classes. I thought it might be interesting to do a project that interrogates ‘madness,’ trying to bridge these two fields in an interesting way.” Read Preetha’s profile.
With that knowledge he immediately immersed himself in the department as soon as he arrived in Durham.
“During my freshman fall, I was part of the Modeling in Economic and Social Sciences Focus Cluster," said Rasal.
The FOCUS program is for students in their first semester at Duke. Students apply and can choose from one of 18 clusters that cover a variety of topics. The goal of the program is to expose students to concepts from various fields, spanning the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Through the semester, students have dinner seminars, meetings with faculty and guest speakers and share housing with other FOCUS students. "Being a part of the FOCUS program helped me gain a different perspective of Economics compared to the core courses that I ultimately enrolled in later,” he said. Read Raghav’s profile.
The cello has been an important part of his life since elementary school. Having played in state-level honors orchestras and the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, he knew that he wanted to continue playing in college.
“Duke’s emphasis on a liberal arts education and investment in the arts was a significant influence on my decision to matriculate here,” he said.
Egol will earn his bachelor’s of science degree in Biology with a concentration in cell and molecular biology, as well as a minor in Music. Read Jacob’s profile.
Ritika Saligram can be heard across campus and beyond, as a senior studying Political Science, History and Markets & Management Studies. Saligram helped plan an educational trip to Pearl Harbor for more than 30 Duke student and alumni in her role as co-chair of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. She is president of Duke’s oldest, most award-winning female acappella group, Out of the Blue. Her interests include security and conflict studies in Asia, European history, space diplomacy and opera. After graduation, Saligram will be based out of Dallas working in risk management for Goldman Sachs. Her professional experience includes political risk analysis and financial risk management. Read Ritika's profile.
Six graduating seniors from Romances Studies, each nominated by department faculty to present at the symposium, reflect on the research process and the experience of presenting to an audience of faculty and peers during their final term as Duke undergraduate students. Read their profiles from the symposium.
The AADS program started in 2018 and the minor was approved for students for Fall 2022. Its first class graduates this spring.
Lee has been involved in student organizing for Asian American Studies since his first year, in spaces where maybe “the real Asian American studies are the friends we made along the way.” He joined the Asian American Studies Working Group (AASWG) and found not only a much-lauded base of student investment in Asian American Studies, but also a kind of “political home” which can be rare at Duke. In addition to the AADS minor, Lee will graduate with a major in Chemistry and a minor in Biology. Read David’s profile.
Senior Gabrielle Butler has wise advice for incoming Duke students: Challenge yourself to try something new and stick with it.
“First-years and incoming students tend to try and find the ‘best fit,’ i.e., where they feel most comfortable,” said Butler. “In a lot of ways that's great, but change happens when we're being challenged, and the risk of taking that challenge ends up with many rewards.”
Butler is a double major in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies and Evolutionary Anthropology with a minor in Chemistry. Read Gabrielle's profile.
Elizabeth Wise came to Duke like many students — excited to be in a place where academics and athletics blended, but unsure what she wanted her path to be.
While Markets & Management Studies was on her radar from the beginning, she spent her first couple of semesters trying courses before deciding on Psychology as her major.
“You can really do whatever you want with any degree, especially at a school like Duke where a liberal arts education is such a part of the foundation of everything," Wise said.
By exploring the advantages of a liberal arts education through Duke, Wise was not only allowed to immerse herself in a major and certificate that fueled her interests both academically and personally, but she found ways to incorporate other interests at Duke as well. Read Elizabeth’s profile.
Pranav Athimuthu, a Psychology and Political Science double major from the suburbs of Atlanta, has consistently modeled the attributes of a Bruner award-winner during his time at Duke.
Athimuthu is intrigued by the ability of psychology to decode human behavior, particularly in politics. His research has taken him down numerous paths, including better understanding the link between religion and emotions, studying human perception of visual phenomena and helping citizens better engage with democracy. Read Pranav’s profile.
Tia Smith was introduced to the works of Black playwright Steve Carter by her twin sister. “My sister studies theater at Northwestern,” said Smith, who is graduating from Duke with majors in Theater Studies and African & African American Studies.
For Smith, the most rewarding part of her distinction project has been helping to raise awareness of Carter and his works. It’s an undertaking she hopes to continue after graduation, when she attends the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University, pursuing an MFA in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism. Read Tia’s profile.
Students spent the week expanding their friendships, exploring new places and engaging history from first-person perspectives to understanding the constraints and consequences of decision makers. The Program in American Grand Strategy tours — called staff rides — are a specific kind of immersive learning.
Maxwell, who is graduating with majors in Mathematics and Music and a minor in Statistical Science, is an accomplished pianist and trumpet player who has performed in the Duke Symphony Orchestra, the Duke University Marching Band and the Chamber Music Program. Throughout his time at Duke, he has also studied piano with Professor David Heid. Read Nathaniel’s profile.
“Right when I stepped onto Duke’s campus, I knew it was where I belonged,” said Political Science and MMS senior Olivia Navaroli.
That feeling hasn’t changed over the course of the past four years. From spending the spring in Duke Gardens or cheering on Duke Basketball to climbing to the top of Duke Chapel in the fall, Navaroli’s time at Duke has been an experience to remember.
Duke has provided Navaroli with an opportunity to learn more about herself and others — something that has come not just from her collegiate experience, but from her coursework as well. Read Olivia’s profile.
Danica Schwartz, a Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies major and graduate, has one major complaint about her time with GSF: that she couldn’t take even more courses in the department.
“GSF has always been incredibly welcoming and supportive yet has never hesitated to challenge me and make me think (and rethink) incredibly deeply,” said Schwartz.
“I've loved the diverse and intersectional schools of thought/feminist theory that I've been able to engage with and learn throughout my time in the department and feel that GSF has really shaped my worldview and given me the tools to navigate and understand the complex issues I hope to someday work towards solving in my career.”
Schwartz’s work at GSF has focused on reproductive health and justice. As an undergraduate, she has participated in nonprofit work and academic research in that field. Read Danica’s profile.
His upcoming May graduation has made Duke Economics senior Qi Xuan Khoo reflect on his time with Duke Econ.
“My undergraduate experience at Duke has been nothing less than intellectually rewarding and eye-opening. I have learnt tremendously from the faculty's diverse backgrounds and areas of work,” said Khoo. Khoo is a double major in economics and computer science with a minor in mathematics.
His studies have included a wide range of topics from corporate finance to development economics. Khoo also worked as an undergraduate research assistant looking at healthcare fraud and data mining.
A highlight of Khoo’s time at Duke is being a part of the new Duke Economics Analytics Lab (DEAL), where he is in the first cohort of Woodman Scholars. The goal of the DEAL is to integrate students interested in doing research as undergraduates into faculty research teams. It aims to help students develop expertise and skills to position them advantageously for their lives beyond Duke. Read Qi Xuan’s profile.
This spring, Duke will award terminal degrees in dance practice and performance to Brooks Emanuel, Marika Niko, Leo Ryan and Zhixhuan “Miki” Zhu. These four artists-scholars make up the third cohort of Duike Dance's Master of Fine Arts: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis graduates and have pursued bold creative projects. Each of which reinforces Duke’s commitment to amplifying how artists make dance work across cultures, communities and contexts. Read their profiles.
Anna Greenleaf, a double major in Psychology and Statistical Science minoring in Photography has consistently grown as a researcher during her four years at Duke, and that journey consists of various snapshots of what it takes to become an outstanding researcher.
A native of New York City, Greenleaf arrived on Duke campus as a freshman with a grand curiosity about human behavior and even bigger aspirations to engage in research.
“One of the reasons I chose Duke is because of the resources and environment the university offers to scholars interested in research,” she said. Read Anna’s profile.
Statistics and computer science double major Jenny Huang started Duke as many of us do — vaguely pre-med, undecided on a major — but she knew she had an interest in scientific research. Four years later, with a Quad Fellowship and an acceptance to MIT for her doctoral studies, she reflects on how research shaped her time at Duke, and how she hopes to impact research. Read Jenny’s profile.
Michelle Liang’s senior distinction project might have turned out very differently if it hadn’t been for COVID-19. The Cultural Anthropology and Biology major was taking a class about food cultures during the spring that the pandemic began.
“The class piqued my interest in the politics around food and eating practices, and food and different cultures. This was fueled by what was happening at that time with COVID. I wrote a paper that centered around how COVID reignited this fear of eating Chinese food that was present in U.S. history, but also often very much forgotten because Chinese food has been so popularized.” Read Michelle’s profile.