Duke picks Commencement speaker

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✔The Chronicle is reporting that President Brodhead told some seniors that the Commencement speaker will be John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems. He attended Duke for two years before transferring, but under our rules, he's an alumnus.

✔ Fact Checker has already checked him out

Forget a commencement address. Next May at Duke, John Chambers will seem like an evangelist, promptly leaving the podium, stepping down from the stage, moving through the seated graduates as he speaks, coursing over to the faculty and parents to face them head-on.

His right hand is never still: a finger pauses on his lip in contemplation, he reaches as if to heaven, then clasps both hands in front of him as if in prayer, and a moment later his right hand arcs through the air to emphasize his point.

Then he leans over, right down to the level of a graduate seated nearby, quietly advising her with a juggling motion of his arms and hands to balance life between work and family.

Slicing through the seriousness of the occasion, he advises “Learn to laugh. Most things in life are not near as serious as you think they are.“

Chambers been on the commencement circuit for more than a decade (Wake Forest, 2000 was one of the earliest, about time we caught up) and is an accomplished speaker. No notes, and obviously no teleprompter and no podium.

And most of all, for those of us who remember speakers of recent vintage at Duke, merciful brief. FC timed one address at only 13 minutes!!! Take that Barbara Kingsolver.

On yes, John Chambers loves basketball. It’s unclear at this writing whether he played, but when he was a graduate student at Indiana University he developed a friendship with one of Bobby Knight’s graduate assistants, a 26 year old named Michael Krzyzewski. He speaks of a dinner with our team seven years ago and what he learned. No, I won't steal the thunder.

Chambers says he landed at Cisco when he was looking for a job “purely because of the way i treated somebody seven years earlier. He said, 'John, this is the company for you because of your skills in dealing with other people.'“

If only someone had told you to invest $10 in Cisco stock.. with the right timing on buying and the right timing on selling, you'd be a millionaire today. (The stock has since lost value.)

Though the company name is not likely to be on much that you own, its hardware and software is at the heart of technology, its reputation one of the best in Silicon Valley.

He has been richly rewarded by his company -- and speaks of sharing.

Last December, Pratt’s Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics announced a new award, the John T. Chambers Scholars. Two graduate students will be selected each year, to receive $40,000 apiece each year for two years. The winners are graduate students Stephanie Chiu of biomedical engineering and Ma Luo of electrical and computer engineering.

FC has to believe, all this is only a start for new involvement with Duke. Or to put it another way, those people salivating over on the sidelines are from the development office.

Some points from a recent speech: Take risks, he said. take risks. “You will not achieve what you are capable of in life unless you reach out and give it a try. ... you will periodically fall. That will make you stronger.”

And with his right hand raised as if answering a teacher, “How many of you like change. Isn't change great! Raise your hand. ... during your life you will probably work in five or ten different roles and you've got to learn to adjust to change. Darwin had it right. It isn't the strong in species that survive. It is they who learn how to adapt.”

“All of our top competitors from 15 years ago at Cisco are gone. Not because of what we did. because of what they did. they did not adapt, and did not change with time.”