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Duke Students Pay Musical Homage to Nixon

Apr 12, 2011

Thanks to current students at Richard Nixon's alma mater, the phrase 'Tricky Dick' is now more than just an epithet for the disgraced president - it's also the name of a yearly variety show performed at Duke University in his 'honor.' This represents a major change in the school's attitude towards one of the most controversial men in American history.

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By Eric Garneau

richard nixon

Richard Milhous Nixon graduated from Duke University School of Law in 1937. In 1946, he was elected to the House of Representatives. 1952 saw him become one of the youngest Vice Presidents in history. In 1968 he ran for President and won. In 1974, thanks to the Watergate scandal, he was nationally disgraced and resigned his presidency.

If you ignore everything but that last sentence, Nixon's career would be one well worth celebrating. Inevitably, though, he'll be remembered as one of the most scandalous politicians of the 20th century. It's because of that legacy that Duke University had shied away from embracing its connection to the ex-President, locking away his portrait and even denying a request to host his presidential library in 1981. But some Duke students and faculty are beginning to come around.

Enter 'Tricky Dick,' a musical complete with a 50-person ensemble composed of students, professors and administrators from the university. As the name implies, the show's a comedy; it's a Vegas-style cabaret complete with its principal in a rubber Nixon mask like you might see on Halloween. In it, our hero attempts to become student body president but runs into a few dilemmas brought about by his less-than-stellar ethics.

After winning over its audience in last year's performance, 'Tricky Dick' received a major upgrade this year, including cast additions (it now includes a law school dean and a legal ethics professor) and a venue change (an arts center in downtown Durham, NC, which sold out). It even received a $5,000 donation from a local law firm where a recent Duke law graduate works.

Show organizers want to turn 'Tricky Dick' into a yearly Duke tradition. That newfound acceptance of Nixon's legacy has led to a few other changes at the university - Duke moved Nixon's painting into its law school library the day of the play, and they're now considering a permanent display which includes the portrait. Justin Becker, president of the Duke Law School student body, told The New York Times 'being born after Nixon's presidency, we don't have any hard feelings toward him. Maybe, secretly, we're all proud he went here.'

Maybe so, or maybe, as the adage says, 'time heals all wounds.' The Duke School of Law has dealt with the troublesome legacy of one of its graduates in part by laughing at it. There seems to be a lesson there for all of us.

Writing musicals about controversial presidents is only one way to get through law school. Education-portal.com has a few other ideas for you here.

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