Xiqing Gao '86 encouraged Duke Law School’s 2014 graduates to preserve their optimism, idealism, and passion for their work when he spoke at their hooding ceremony on May 10.
“You have earned this seat through intelligence, diligence, and discipline,” said Gao, the former president and chief investment officer of China’s sovereign-wealth fund, the China Investment Corporation, and an architect of his country’s stock markets and regulatory agency. “You have proven that you have a lot to offer this world. Now you need to prove that you can make a difference, whether that be in the courtroom, classroom, NGO, or office. Lead by example, because anything is possible.”
Gao addressed Duke Law School’s JD, LLM, and Master of Judicial Studies graduates prior to their hooding in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Two hundred and twelve graduates received the JD degree during Duke’s weekend ceremonies, with 22 also earning an LLM degree in international and comparative law, and 13 also receiving a master’s degree from another graduate school at Duke University. One student also earned a Master of Global Business Law degree from Sciences Po in Paris, one of Duke Law’s partner institutions.
Eighty-five internationally trained lawyers earned LLM degrees, and 12 attorneys received the LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship.
Fourteen distinguished judges from state and federal courts and two foreign jurisdictions earned the Master of Judicial Studies after completing two summers of intensive study at Duke Law and writing scholarly theses, all while maintaining their judicial duties.
One student, Feroz Ali Khader, of Madras, India, was honored, in absentia, for his graduation with the SJD, the highest degree awarded in law.
In his remarks, Gao, a Duke University trustee, shared some of his life experiences in the hope, he said, of encouraging the graduates to transcend barriers regardless of cost. He recalled shouldering a heavy workload as a teenaged railroad construction worker in the mountains of Western China. The “lack of knowledge and information” ” made harsh conditions seem almost unbearable, he said.
“I devoured every piece of paper that had any word on it like a hungry man. Together with a few co-workers we started a study group called ‘The Communist Laborers’ Night School,’ with a few old textbooks we brought with us.” They learned English — and risked imprisonment, he said — by listening to Voice of America and BBC broadcasts on an old radio.
When he was assigned, three years later, to work in an artillery factory, Gao studied English on the side, eventually being one of 12 out of 200 students to complete a yearlong course. That gained him a recommendation to attend college in Beijing, without having ever been to a high school, he said.
After graduating from both college and law school in Beijing, Gao was sent, in 1982, to a California law firm as an exchange scholar to prepare for a teaching career. “There I realized that my knowledge of law was utterly inadequate to deal with international transactions, which I was supposed to teach back in Beijing,” he said of his decision to pursue a JD degree in the U.S. “That started my ‘honey decades’ with Duke Law, which gave me a full scholarship and fuller education in American law,” he said. After his years of hardship, and in spite of facing some prejudice on campus, Gao described Duke Law as a “heaven of learning.”
He became “fascinated by the intricacies of the capitalistic financing machines” and, after careful study as a junior associate in a Wall Street firm, and then touring most of the stock exchanges in Europe and Asia, Gao returned to China with the hope of persuading the government to establish a capital market. In spite of considerable skepticism, he was instrumental in opening two stock exchanges in China in 1990, and a regulatory agency two years later.
Having served in leadership positions for years, most recently as head of China’s sovereign-wealth fund, Gao said he looks forward to returning, in his retirement, to doing “what I love the most — working with young people every day, teaching and, more importantly, learning.”
Describing his life as one of many detours, Gao told the graduates that hardship “may pay in the long run.” He advised them to try out the roads less traveled and to embrace differences in views, people, cultures, and ideologies. “They just teach you to be more tolerant and open-minded,” he said. “Setting overly high material goals, may keep you from realizing your ideals or keeping your vision,” he added.
In his remarks, Dean Levi praised the intelligence, initiative, and accomplishments of the graduates and thanked them for their enthusiastic contributions to and support of the Law School. He noted that the JD graduates began their legal studies just as the overall and legal economies were starting to emerge from near collapse.
“Your career now begins in a time of recovery,” he said, adding that they would likely face other periods of economic downturn in the coming decades. “Through it all, you will find that the education you have received here has prepared you to reach your full potential as a lawyer and citizen, to adapt, to learn new fields of knowledge, and to make significant contributions to maintaining the social fabric.
“You have earned the right to join our distinguished body of alumni who practice law and serve the common good all over the world.”