Dear Duke Student,
You probably don’t know who I am. Most people don’t. I’m that girl you probably passed by on the new bridge by West Union, her earphones in and looking down at the ground. I’m that girl you’ve probably seen sitting at an event by herself, trying her best not to let her anxiety take complete control of her life. I’m that girl you might sit next to on the C1, who’s doing her best to feel like she belongs despite being at Duke for close to six years now.
No, I’m not a fifth-year senior. No, I’m not a grad student. I’m just hella old and haven’t graduated yet.
But I wanna tell you a few things before I leave campus.
As someone who’s been here since 2013, I’ve seen things happen on this campus. I’ve seen and heard about all the racist, homophobic threats and slurs and everything. Campus may have changed physically since six years ago, but it hasn’t changed culture-wise. There are still people who harbor extremely problematic (re: anti-Semitic, anti-black, xenophobic) views. And they look like you and me.
If you’re like me, you’ve had impostor’s syndrome since before O-Week. You’ve questioned again and again your own qualifications. You’ve tried to make friends in class or in clubs or other places and tried to find your community. You’ve tried to find friendly neighbors in dorms full of independents. You’ve felt isolated, unseen, unheard by administrators who seem to cater to where the money comes from.
I hear you. I see you. I feel for everyone who’s ever posted or frequented the You’re Not Alone page. I know how Duke culture can break you down and make you question everything. It makes you wonder if you can ever find a group of people you truly fit in with. And maybe some of us never do. I know I never did. Not completely, anyway.
But ultimately, you’ll know that it’ll be okay. That despite now having a network of hundreds of people you could maybe grab coffee with once and never see again in your life, you’ll still have done something, maybe, to make campus culture a little more bearable for the people you’ve come across. The connections you’ve formed are no less authentic and genuine.
Even if you’ve slowly lost your love for learning while trying to figure out how to best satisfy seemingly arbitrary grades and classes and requirements.
Even if you’ve felt as though everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world is taken away by the views and opinions you’re exposed to on campus.
Even if you’ve felt displaced and out of sync, surrounded by people yet still lonely as hell: I know how that feels.
It doesn’t always get better. Some days are still hard. When the people who came into Duke with you leave and go onto different paths in life, it’s hard not to feel left behind. You roam the changing landscape of a campus you find familiar, only the places that used to host fonder memories are now replaced and populated by unfamiliar faces.
It’s nothing new. The loneliness. The social comparisons. The so-called social hierarchies that most people don’t give a shit about. The prestige, the wealth, the elitism, the work-hard-but-play-harder mentality.
I can’t promise that Duke won’t break you. It probably has and will. And if it hasn’t, life post-Duke might. I think some of us go through enough shit that we feel the need to give back to this institution afterward.
I don’t know what to say to help you feel like things might get better. They don’t always, and I’m not gonna promise you anything that isn’t true. Chances are, sometimes you can do everything you can do to be amazing in life, to achieve some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for self-actualization and all that good bullshit, and it ultimately leaves you with nothing to show for it.
But the one thing I’ve learned from all this is that you’ll manage. You’re stronger than you think. That no matter what happens, you’ll weather the storm. While some days seem like the eye in the middle of a hurricane of distractions, you’ll make it through. And life outside Duke is beautiful, from what I’ve heard.
Regardless of where you’re at, even if you’re a complete stranger, just know that I’m thinking of you. For the people who feel marginalized or displaced--I’ll sit with you.
You may pass by me as you go about your caffeine-fueled day. You may walk past my dorm as you prepare for another night out. You may accidentally make eye contact with me one day as we walk past each other. But I hope that you know I’m here, too.
I’ll be thinking of you.
Art by Natalia Mesa