Durham, N.C. — Recording artist John Legend encouraged graduates to strengthen their communities during his commencement speech at Duke University’s graduation on Sunday.
Legend is one of 16 people in the world who has reached EGOT status, meaning he’s won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony award. He also made Duke history by being the first EGOT winner to speak at commencement.
“Bring your own unique gifts to the table to engage in the real, tangible bettering of your community,” Legend told graduates at Brooks Field in Wallace Wade Stadium. “There is wisdom, strength and power in the community. You’ve learned that here at Duke. But don’t forget it as you bind and build community elsewhere.”
Legend also encouraged graduates to “embrace our shared humanity.”
“Our nation is at its best when we realize that we all do better when we all do better,” he said.
Legend also recognized the unique challenges the class faced by graduating during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have so few moments to enjoy these rites of passage. Today is one of those moments, and of course, after a year when we could barely gather at all, it takes on a special meaning,” Legend said. “Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the stands: Your class lost a lot, job offers, loved ones, a year of those little moments that make college so special.”
When he wasn’t behind the podium, Legend was still talking about what’s happening in North Carolina and around the country with unrest, racial justice and local government innovation.
Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson also tweeted Legend spent an hour talking with her and other city leaders about the topics.
Those talks behind the scenes carried over in his speech as he challenged graduates to do more to help others.
“Class of 2021, Duke has poured all kinds of tools and resources into you and I’m asking you to use them on behalf of our democracy and how interdependent we are on each other,” said Legend.
Legend also received an honorary doctorate at the ceremony.