That is one of my favorite questions to ask my students at Duke. I ask it because Durham is the home of Duke University and because so many exciting things are happening here. I also ask this question to help my students reflect on something very important: how are they a part of a larger community, and what
impact will they have in the communities they choose to live in following graduation? While we often get so wrapped up in campus life, it is important to gain an appreciation for the larger community in which we all live. The university is not independent of its community; Durham helps to shape Duke and Duke helps to shape Durham.
I've asked this question so many times to students visiting with me, and almost always I see how difficult it is for them to think about a place that is outside of campus. Yes, we all love Duke Gardens, but it is important to have an awareness of your community outside the campus walls. Have you checked out one of the amazing neighborhoods around you? The Eno River? The American Tobacco Trail? The amazing autumn foliage at Falls Lake? The art galleries and studios at Golden Belt? One of my favorite memories in Durham was the time I took my amazing Career Ambassadors on the Bull City Connector and then walked to Pelican Snowballs. We were able to try delicious (and sometimes peculiar) snowball flavors (I'm thinking of James ordering toothpaste flavor!) and it also gave us the opportunity to discuss the city in which we live. We talked about the Hayti neighborhood, the building of the Durham Freeway, and reflected on the impact that one road had in shaping Durham. Many of the students had never explored this part of the city and were able to get a better understanding of their community. They later cited this visit as one of their favorite activities in our annual feedback survey.
Imagine you find yourself, an outstanding applicant in your field, applying to the first job (or graduate school) of your dreams. The recruiter, understandably so as Durham/Raleigh is ranked # 10 in the Best Places to Live in, is interested in learning about what your favorite part of Durham/the Triangle is. What would you say? What do you think your interviewer would think about your intellectual curiosity if you cannot talk fluently about the city you've lived in for four years? More importantly, how proud are you of the impact that you are leaving in the home of your alma mater? Think of ways to seize opportunities to learn about the community in which you live and how to make a positive impact. Start by exploring the community while being safe, mindful, and respectful. You'll begin to learn more about the city by experiencing it, but you'll also learn more about yourself, including your preferences and prejudices. There are many opportunities to volunteer available in Durham that can allow you to explore your interests, or you could work in a local nonprofit where you could acquire relevant transferable skills.
Question yourself–what do you know about Durham and the Triangle? More importantly, be able to answer—what your impact has been here in Durham.