It’s time to face the facts, as we have finished classes and head into finals, that another school year here has come and gone. Self-reflection becomes necessary this time of year as we look back on the past school year and forward to the next. There are aspects to this self-reflection that vary and develop as we grow from freshmen to seniors. Each year at Duke brings new experiences and new means of evaluating and assessing our time here. There are experiences and benchmark moments specific to each grade from o-week freshman year to senior year commencement and everything in between, and these moments provide us with a time to pause and reflect. This is not just about the reflection of all that we’ve done and accomplished during our year here at Duke, but just as much about the things that we haven’t. These are the questions that we collectively ask ourselves as the school year draws to a close.
So, freshmen, what do you think of your first year at college? Do you feel settled? Are you ready to move off of East Campus, no longer being held together by physical boundaries as the freshman class, but instead off and dispersed on your own? There is often a lot of fear and anxiety surrounding the relationships and connections that one will make in their first year of college. I know I felt it. Going into the year I had so many big expectations and ideas about what this year, and the following three, would be like. Before college it felt like everyone I spoke to left me with the pressure-filled reminder that these would be “the best four years of my life” with the friends who would stay with me long after we left campus. I started freshman year as eager as anyone. But with expectations as high as these, I should’ve taken a moment to pause and realize that what everyone was telling me about my college experiences wouldn’t happen right away. Instead, these experiences would develop over time, making them even stronger in the end.
As that first year comes to the close, I urge you to look back and assess the first of the “best four years of your life” just as I remember doing myself. Have you made those deep connections? We all know what people say about “o-week” friends that don’t last, but what was your own experience? Have you met people who broaden your horizons and challenge your opinions? People who will go with you without question wherever you need, whether that’s to Cosmic at 3am or Perkins just as late? Or are you still looking? A word of advice, no reflection is bad reflection. If you haven’t found those connections yet, it is ok, and normal. Freshman year really is only the beginning, even though so many of us commonly get caught up in our expectations for this one quick transition-filled year. There is still so much more to come.
Sophomores, I hate to say it, and I know you hate to hear it, but you’re halfway through. Does that scare you, excite you, confuse you? If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably feeling a little bit of all three. Are you ready to be upperclassmen? I didn’t think I was. Do you feel comfortable enough on this campus and with the relationships you’ve made here to venture off abroad, like so many of you will, for the fall semester of your junior year? Will you miss Duke or are you ready to break free? In essence, the conclusion of sophomore year means that you’re expected to be ready to take on the world and take what you’ve learned at Duke to new places. At the same time, is there something drawing you back? That’s what it felt like for me. I felt I had these Duke experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, that I was ready to take with me somewhere else. I felt ready to go somewhere new, off on my own, and come back with a fresh mind after four semesters here. At the same time, I felt the stress of going off on my own, the anxiety of the unknown and the confusion that I was “old enough to do this”. Foreign country all on my own? There’s a first time for everything, and abroad was my first time doing that. So, I can assure you that the tension is normal. Use it as motivation to make abroad even more meaningful, and come back to Duke with a newfound understanding of yourself and the world. Duke can be a bubble sometime, and breaking away is truly exciting.
Juniors, I hate to say it even more, and as a current junior myself I hate to hear it even more too, but you’re entering into your last year. Do you feel ready to step into that role, culminating your studies and experiences and relationships with only two more semesters here? Has college been everything you expected it to be? If not, how’re you going to change that during your last year here? I think what’s really unique about the conclusion of junior year, as I’m engaging in this active reflection myself, isn’t just how much we’re asking ourselves these questions, but how much other people are asking now too. It’s a transition that continues once we are seniors, as the questions posed seem even more significant and our answers to them prove an expectation from others that we are engaging in this deeper reflection and have responses back for them.
Seniors, it’s time to ask the broadest, but also most important, question: what has Duke meant to you? Did you read the through the reflections associated with each of these years, questioning where the time went? Now comes time for the most sentimental reflection for yourself and a graduation weekend full of motivated questions from others. It continues what started one year earlier as junior year came to a close. However, what’s so different is the true value of what you expected coming into Duke, what you told yourself these four years would be, and the recognition that there isn’t time left to change these matters. Now it’s about realizing them and accepting them as fact, and that’s something that’s really hard to do. For the first time, everyone is going off on their own, but it’s not like going abroad where you can expect to all be brought back together one semester later. Some will continue with school, others will start jobs all across the country, others will venture outside these borders onto their next adventure. Wherever you fit into this, it’s your own unique path into the future, and you’re not doing with the security of the people who have surrounded and supported you for the past four years. But being a senior means it’s time for that and that you are ready for that, even if you may not feel it yourself.
Everyone will answer these questions a little differently, but it’s crucial to take the time for yourself to admit the truth about these answers and experiences. That means accepting the fact that you may have negative responses to some, if not many of these questions. Yes, that’s scary and sad. But it also gives you time to make the realizations and plans for change while you can.
Senior year, I’m looking at you, and I’m looking to end Duke with no more regrets. Sure, I may have had some in the past, but I’ve realized them now. Here’s to every opportunity I’ve wanted to take advantage of but haven’t yet. Here’s to those people who’ve sat in my classes year after year and I’ve not spent enough time truly talking to and learning about, the people I got too lazy to keep saying hi to when I pass on campus and now sometimes ignore, the dinner dates and dorm-room hangouts we stopped planning through the years, that professor I should have worked harder to develop a relationship with, or should even just try and reach out to now, every forgotten-friend or faded memory, those girls from my freshman-year hall that I’ve lost touch with and shouldn’t have, the amazing late nights with friends and terrible late nights in a cubicle in Perkins.
Take the time for yourself to look back when so much of our time here at Duke is spent focused on what’s to come. Realizing where we’ve come from and being honest with ourselves about those past experiences serves to make past year reflections that can be much more meaningful than cliche new year’s resolutions.