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Honor Council Chair Presents Welcome Speech to Class of 2020

The Duke University Honor Council was privileged to help welcome the Class of 2020 with a message on honor and integrity, delivered by senior Surya. Read the transcript of her speech below:

Hello Everyone! My name is Surya Veerabagu, and I’m a senior this year (so obviously I am all knowing) and I serve as the current chair of Duke honor council.

Firstly, I would like to say: Congratulations on being here today! I’m sure I’m the millionth person to tell you that, but you deserve to hear it each and every time it’s said.

Before I shed all of my senior words of wisdom with you all, I would like for you all to stand up and stick your hands out to your sides and rub your hands like this. *motion with my hands* See, you’re scratching your neighbors back! *laugh* Okay, we can sit down now.

You may wonder, what is this weird senior chick telling me to do? The point of this exercise was to demonstrate what makes Duke so special: our community. It’s not I scratch your back, you scratch mine, but about working together to create something wonderful.

Look to your left and right, these are your peers. They are your future neighbors, study partners, confidants, and much more. You will cry and laugh together. You will eat 2AM Cosmic burritos together and camp out for games in Cameron together. You all have excelled in many if not all aspects of your lives, and are now seated here together after undergoing the rigorous college application process.

Here at Duke, you will experience challenges like you never have before. I, myself, have encountered some of my greatest accomplishments and most heart-breaking defeats in my last three years here. I stand before you now as Honor Council Chair, but only a year prior, I ran for this very same position and lost. I was upset, and I wanted to give up by leaving council. At this time, my mentor and future Truman Scholar reminded me that it was time for me to practice moral courage – the ability to uphold my values and morals during trying times. I stand before you as testament that it’s at times like this when our values and morals are tested most, and I urge you to take these moments as learning experiences for your personal ethical development. Duke will test you both inside and outside of the classroom, and through this, will allow you to grow into the best versions of yourself possible. It is only when each individual holds themselves accountable that we can have a flourishing community together.

Please understand that in our Duke journey we all have and will mess up. There will be times when we are placed in foreign territory, and we make decisions that we are not comfortable with.

Honor Council is not here to judge or reprimand you for mistakes. Duke Honor Council is a University group that focuses on helping all of us uphold the Duke Community Standard and learn more about ethics. The Standard is as follows: I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors; I will conduct myself honorably in all my endeavors; and I will act if the Standard is compromised.

We are a resource to help you understand what this standard means and why it is important. The Standards helps us set aside our various differences in origins, majors and so on, in order for us to help our community be the best we can. Through the Duke Community standard, we are encouraged to operate at our best selves and unite together as one whole.

The challenges we face in college help shape our personal ethical compass. Through the decisions we make now we form habits that we will carry with us into the workforce and for the rest our lives. Ethics and honor are very personal subjects that take time for us to sort out and deliberate, and Honor Council is here to help you with that process.

Everyone here has different personal morals and values, but everyone holds equal value. In the spirit of community and respect, please take a moment on your way out to sign the community standard banner as a public pledge to uphold our sense of Duke community.

Thank you so much for your time, and I’m so excited to see what you blue devils accomplish in the next four years!

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