John Legend delivers Duke University's 2021 commencement speech

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Sunday, May 2, 2021
John Legend delivers Duke University's 2021 commencement speech
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"Love for a world where we don't need to win at someone else's expense, even if they're Tar Heels," the singer said in his speech.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- John Legend was the keynote commencement speaker for Duke University in 2021's commencement ceremony. He will also receive an honorary degree from the university.

Legend is a superstar singer, songwriter, actor and producer with countless accolades including being the first Black man to achieve the EGOT distinction--by earning Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

"You know, I'm feeling good because today because this is the first time I've been in front of a live audience, hearing live applause, since last February, Fourteen months ago," said Legend.

The musician spoke about studying hard for his own degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Legend's appearance was enough to make one Tar Heel a little jealous.

"'Cause John Legend's so cool! Did he bring Chrissy? 'Cause I wanna meet Chrissy. I'm a big fan of the family," said UNC student Adeline Dorough.

Legend did mention his famous wife Chrissy Teigen as well as societal challenges facing the newly-minted graduates.

"He talked about the mass incarceration and the war on drugs. That is something that we need to work and be better at," said Serena Rivera, Duke 2021.

Duke junior Matt Finch said Legend was a great choice for commencement speaker.

I think so, yeah, I feel like he knows his stuff. I would take advice from anyone older than me," said Finch.

Legend touched upon the UNC-Duke rivalry, which was impacted by the pandemic.

"Over the past year, you were forced to pause. To see yourselves not just in competition with one another, but in community with each other," said Legend in his address.

In his speech, Legend encouraged Duke's 2021 graduates to live their lives with love for neighbors, strangers and justice.

"Love for a world where we don't need to win at someone else's expense, even if they're Tar Heels," said Legend.

"That's wonderful! That's great advice because you don't need that competition. You need a good heart, which Carolina encourages you to have," said Dorough.

The other honorary degree recipients at Duke this year included attorney and civil rights leader Barbara Arnwine; Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing Professor Jacquelyn Campbell; Harvard University Professor of History and of African and African American Studies Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham; and former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency William K. Reilly.

SEE ALSO | Russell Wilson to give Spring 2021 NC State commencement address

As for Legend, it was his first return to Duke since he performed on campus with Kanye West during the 2004 Last Day of Classes concert.

Commencement took place at 9 a.m. in Wallace Wade Stadium. Due to COVID-19, it was only open to graduating undergraduate students and their pre-registered guests.

The entire ceremony was streamed live at this link.


"We are thrilled to have John Legend serve as our speaker at undergraduate commencement-and to have such an extraordinary group of honorary degree recipients, each of whom have made transformational contributions to our understanding of the world," Duke University President Vincent Price said. "I know that their example will excite and inspire our graduates, and I look forward to welcoming them on May 2."