With the end nigh, I find myself taking the long way home, unnecessarily driving or more accurately crawling up Chapel Drive. Soaking it up as it were. Enjoying the flood of years past washing to the front of my mind.
I’m not alone. Walking to blue zone yesterday, I ran into a block of my friends leaving just having paid tribute to Tailgate with key and can. They were strolling through the Indiana limestone arches visiting their favorite spots on campus. Their next stop: Bella Union, a place that makes living in Edens infinitely better (Few can keep Alpine).
For me, Bella is central to sophomore year. Early morning coffee, afternoon tea, late night espresso. It met all my stimulant-related needs. It was my go to for half-heartedly doing work. So naturally I spent most of my “study” time on that fourth floor of the tower. And by most I mean nearly all. I used the abundant life and foot traffic in Bella to procrastinate until closing. Midnight didn’t signify the start of an intense productivity, however. It meant the beginnings of virtual distraction and that my laptop stayed plugged in ‘til the wee hours of the morning.
Every time I went home during college my neighbor told me to find the balance. That is, find the healthy medium between being social and studious. Maybe I did or maybe I just tell myself that to not be upset that I stayed up until six in the morning more times than I care to remember. Even if I am lying to myself to live a synthetic happiness, my current reflection points to a concrete benefit from the “balance” I chose at Duke, which gives me solace.
While sitting in Bella at four in the morning, long after close, I couldn’t focus on my work. The mind wanders for want of diversion from exhaustion and misery. I questioned my choices that brought me exhaustion and blood shot eyes. Why hadn’t I done my work earlier? I usually realized or at least told myself it was because I was enjoying my life – talking to friends and trolling around. Of course I would then imagine the future years here and beyond. Going abroad, coming back, opening a bagel shop. The mind wanders without sleep. Though I often hated myself for being up so late, I found great happiness in my projected possibilities and reflections of the has-beens.
So I confess that my best thinking happened not in class or with my nose in the books but while procrastinating. Think about the conversations, the real talk, you’ve had with people long since the sun’s set. That’s where I learned the most in my time here. 4am in Bella – my greatest thinking happened while on the edge of dreaming.
Last week at WNS a fellow senior shared with me a confession of her own. She told her mother that she’s moving to Australia without any direction. But hey, minimum wage is $19/hr. She’ll be fine. Yet I could hear a level of guilt in her voice telling me that she thought her parents would be upset for “throwing away” her expensive schooling. She told them that she’s grateful for their sacrifice and that she will use this amazing education after she figures things out down under. If you ask me, she’s wrong. In uprooting, she is putting that education to use right now, more so than most of us. What is the point of pulling all-nighters writing papers if we can’t make that intellectual dexterity work for us?
My friend’s moving to have an extended 4am procrastination session of self-discovery. She is taking an extended ride up Chapel Drive. She is going to live on the edge of dreaming.
Congratulations to the following students, student organizations, faculty, and administrators who have been awarded Duke University’s most prestigious campus-wide honors for leadership and service. Recipients accepted these honors at the Duke University Student Leadership and Service Awards program on April 17, 2013.
No one warned me about the wall I’d hit senior year. I heard that I would reach a point when I’d just say screw it and do things for completion because I’m almost out the door. I have more important things to do like skipping class and sitting on the plaza with some friends and some of the finest Busch Light or walking to Ben & Jerry’s to get a scoop on free cone day. It’s LSOC (last semester of college – because Duke loves useless acronyms); I’m supposed to be on an emotional high and full of life. Yet whenever someone asks me, how I’m doing I reply, “not that great.” Which generally elicits the “BUT YOU’RE A SENIOR!” response, particularly from underclassmen.
Thank you for reminding me that I’m supposed to be in a perpetual state of euphoria. Sorry to disappoint. Of course there’s fun to be had in college, especially as a senior. Everything is a little heightened and more meaningful. Lunch of Wednesday could be and likely will be the last time I eat at the Law School Refrectory. Gotta capture that moment and feel it – the living nostalgia that makes me long for the memories I’m in the process of making. It makes me hyperaware of my reality and impossible for me to turn a blind eye to the rest of life. The job hunt, papers, readings, and meetings are annoying, but they’re nothing to lose sleepover. Weird, considering I can’t seem to manage more than two consecutive hours a night recently. And maddening because I couldn’t explain why, until the other night.
I had been trying to pinpoint the source of my insomnia, looking to blame anxiety from work, fear of graduation, angst from unemployment, and worry of missing out on my remaining time. They were the natural places to look, but a few nights ago I had one of those muddled dreams that makes zero logical sense yet somehow is loosely intelligible to my consciousness. Meaning I don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell in explaining it. I can say, however, when I woke up I realized looking for a single root cause of my mood was a mistake. Every problem that should be like a small breeze blowing against the fire that keeps me going has slowly compounded to create a gale force wind that extinguished my flame. I’m burnt out.
I’m tired of engaging in the same conversations about the Duke social hierarchy, the administration’s numerous shortcomings, people “not getting it or not paying attention,” and imagining what-if. I’ve heard the same canned dialogue since August 2009. I’ve learned a lot from it, but it’s time to move on. Those conversations, which are old and irritating to me now, shaped me. I’m sure I could still gain more from sticking around and listening to the same qualms, but I think I would grow more cynical and disillusioned. I need a clean break and to face a whole new set of conversations.
Which brings me to the classic question that a senior answers on a daily basis, “What are you doing with your life or in the real world?” Does it not baffle anyone else? Why ask me now? Why did you not ask me that question last year or two years ago? I understand the sort of response it’s trying to elicit, and that is exactly my problem. It equates life with work. Maybe it has escaped your attention, but the four years we spend at Duke are real. True, many of us may not have as many concerns or responsibilities as we will post-graduation, but the operative phrase is as many. We still face challenges and heavy situations here. Financial struggle, sexual assault, discrimination, death, and relationships I would say a more real than the impending “real world” that most people use as a misnomer for the workforce.
College has been real, and that’s why I’m exhausted. “I’M A SENIOR.”
I know that this paragraph will not do justice to my experience during ASB: Arts & Activism. I had the opportunity to be a site leader. The process of planning the logistics and directing the activities during the week challenged me as a leader and as a Duke student. I had the privilege to visit the beautiful city of Chicago and see priceless pieces of art and performances. The most memorable time was working with the high school students. Every ASB has a service component, and in this trip Duke students taught high school students about their identity, various social issues, and the meaning of arts and activism. Throughout the week I built a relationship with the students and they defied my expectations. They were very smart, quick, and passionate. Each high school student had a story to tell and was invested in a social issue. These students have the power to change the world, and I hope they do!
On Tuesday, we had the chance to visit one of Chicago’s landmarks, Cloud Gate, aka the Bean. This landmark is a mirrored sculpture where one’s reflection may be normal or deformed depending on where one is standing. I took several photographs of reflections, but didn’t notice this photograph (found below) until coming back to Duke and it made me think of my experience. Throughout the week, I was challenged on my definition of arts and activism and I was even more confused to where the intersection existed. However, this photo provided me with some answers. Although art has various meanings and purposes while activism has the goal to reform or change a certain imperfection in society, activism through art is possible. As some of Chicago’s buildings are reflected by the bean, we could also see our reflection. However, the bean can only reflect the exterior, not the history of the building, the details, or the reason why it stands. Throughout the week we analyzed art and social issues, but also our identities. Similar to the buildings being reflected, people make assumptions based on our appearance or how they see us, but we are so much more. Nevertheless, it not only reflects one building or one person, but it reflects the surroundings. One’s identity does not reflect our physical appearance, but so much more. I am still conflicted as to how one can achieve it without being egotistic or misinformed, but I am confident that the answers will be revealed to me in time.
I also have included this photograph of the participants on the trip. Throughout the week I learned something about each Duke student. Every single one has great intentions and ideas and I’m sure that they can make a positive difference.
This year, UCAE: Leadership Development & Social Action held its first international Alternative Spring Break program to Lima, Peru. 13 students and 2 staff members traveled to Lima to work with the elderly and children with disabilities. The group worked primarily in two different communities, La Victoria and Villa El Salvador.
La Victoria is often the initial settlement area for thousands of highland migrants who pour into Lima each year. Historically, this area has been home to slaves and indentured servants, and therefore has a high population of Afro, Chinese and Japanese-Peruvians.
Villa El Salvador was founded in 1971 when many families abandoned their homes in the Andes because of poverty, earthquakes, terrorism, etc. The people organized quickly and have been an example for excellence in social work and community growth, being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for their efforts.
We would like to congratulate all of the nominees for the 2013 Duke Student Leadership and Service Awards. Stay tuned for the announcement of recipients after April 17th, and thank you to all of those who nominated others and for the nominees and all that they have done within their community.
Betsy Alden Outstanding Service-Learning Awards
Baldwin Scholars Unsung Heroine Award
Class of 2016 Leadership Award
Julie Anne Levey Memorial Leadership Award
Student Affairs Distinguished Leadership and Service Award
Some people were born to lead. Others were meant to dream about doing cool shit but ultimately end up eating Cheetos while watching GIRLS. Can you guess which one I am?
Leadership is either something you are born into, do to inflate your ego, or struggle through in an attempt to get into a college. This is why I joined Key Club and Student Government my senior year in high school. Key Club was pretty fun, mostly because our advisor was slightly batshit and we got to travel to cool places like NEW MEXICO.
That aside, if you’re like me, you are quite surprised by how much shit Dukies do and when they start doing it. Immediately upon entering, everyone is on East Campus Council, or looking for their niche elsewhere. I didn’t know how to wake up in time for my 10:05, let alone what my niche was.
Clubs I would have joined as a first year: • I don’t know anyone who’s 21 yet, but I need to find liquor club. • I enjoy not wearing pants club. • Fuck Math 25 club.
Eventually (read: junior year), I attempted to niche (can this be used in the infinitive?) by running for co-president of the Center for Race Relations and I, surprisingly, won. Now I was one of them, the real Dukies. My inbox was flooded with e-mails and people began to look to me for input on things. Struggle city. I just wanted to like hang out with cool people and make spreadsheets but obviously, I was supposed to have a lot of free time for meetings and collaborations and stuff.
It’s interesting though when you think about it. Us, you know, the future leaders of America and all. The frat dude who dresses up as a sumo wrestler may one day be in charge of something important. The chick in the bar at shooters may be a CEO or in marketing one day (this seems to be every girl’s dream right?). I mean even me. I could and will be something important some day (mostly because of this inflated Duke ego but also because I have dreams, gosh darnnit). We’re all gonna become that dude in the airport who always seems to be on a business call, although I suspect his mother might be on the other end.
What does this have to do with leadership at Duke? Ummmmm, well, I guess it just means, we hope its like learning how to ride a bike. Once you got it, you got it (or you have it until you get into graduate school and then you resume your search for the perfect streaming version of the GIRLS finale).
Leadership is not just another line on your resume. It’s not something that you can just address during interviews to give your candidacy more credence. It is in fact quite rare to come across great leadership. Yet for some reason, we think this campus is teaming with leaders. Probably because we hand out titles like they’re bin candy on sale.
Having a title next to our name doesn’t mean diddly. DSG president, Vice President of Education for DPS or DUU Major Attractions chair are all just signifiers of responsibility. Inconsequential words. It is the quality of our performance that matters.
Permit me a personal example. I have been heavily involved in Duke University Union since freshman year, following the guidance of others and serving in various leadership capacities. And while I generally enjoyed my experience, I have felt stark differences in the organization from year to year. Both the level of camaraderie and strength of our programming have fluctuated, and I would dare to say they are correlated.
There is not a singular path to leadership. Equally successful leaders can have divergent styles. Every leader, however, needs to create a sense of cohesion within his or her group. The years I felt DUU offered the students the best programming were those when the organization’s members felt a sense of collective identity. We had great relationships with each other and understood our purpose. We focused on our mission of providing “social, recreational, cultural, and educational activities for the students.”
But leadership is not a nine to five job. It is a way of existence. One cannot pick and choose when to be a leader. During the personal checks concert, I saw one student blow an air horn next to someone’s ear. The latter reacted aggressively, getting in the guilty party’s face. Before I could respond, a random third party intervened, breaking up the would-be fight before anything had a chance to happen. That intercessor recognized a problem, chose to act and maintained the peace. He was confident in his mediation, suggesting he has one essential trait for all leaders – an understanding of one’s authentic or true identity.
Knowing yourself doesn’t mean listing the labels others use to describe you. It involves a lot of serious introspection. Asking yourself, what are your vulnerabilities? What are your talents? What are your relationships like? What are your values? What are your goals?
Answering similar questions will help provide greater self-awareness, which offers us the chance to further our strengths and to address our shortcomings. We become aware of how we interact with others and can choose to improve those relations. We become better people and by consequence better leaders.
While Duke offers some services and programs that start us on this path, there’s more the university can do. Campus is plagued with an endless stream of complaints about culture. Yet all of the “solutions” suggest increased dialogue and actions that occur on levels that exclude the general population – the ones who live and determine the culture. It’s time we get everyone on the same page. And we can do it while developing the real leaders we need, the ones we’ve claimed to have but in fact lack.
Scrap the current concept of the freshman seminar and writing 100 (20 for those of us not in the class of 2016). They serve as an introduction to discussion-based academics and a chance to explore our interests. But how much did I actually learn from my course on post-apocalyptic futures? We have 32 other credits that allow us to explore.
Replace them with two courses. One, a leadership seminar, which would serve as a time for students to begin understanding their own principles. The transition to college can be tough, and there is a lot of pressure to conform to the current social and group norms. Think of how much students change from first to second semester of college. A course on high impact leadership would help the freshmen be more assured in their identity and resist changing for the sake of feeling comfortable because they would already be comfortable with themselves.
Two, a course that makes us cognizant of other students’ experiences. Maybe something similar to Common Ground or Stanford’s orientation program “Faces of Community,” which forces students to witness and share their thoughts on the diverse identities on campus. It would be a chance for Dukies to understand each other and be more informed members of our community. Sit fifteen students down in a room and have them talk about relational issues. It would a heuristic approach to learning. Because I would be learning from my peers, it would seem more human than theoretical academics. We’d be conscious of experiences beyond our own.
Combined these courses would help students know themselves and their peers better. They would challenge our identities and push us to improve our character. We would have a campus of leaders ready to make change rather than just talk about it.
Leading well is hard, but Duke is filled with individuals with endless potential. By that I don’t mean we need to wait for a title. Forget it. It’s not necessary. We can incite impact from any role. We just need the right mentor and learning.