Today will mark the thirtieth column I have written for The Chronicle. It will also mark my last. I would like to dedicate this to all those who took the time to read what I had to say—whether they agreed with it or not, but especially if they didn’t.
There is a tremendous temptation as a departing senior columnist to use these last few words to sign-off with a grand message or, alternatively, an existential meandering journey through one’s time at Duke. Today I’m going to resist that siren call, however, if only because I’ve engaged in such activity enough these last three years. Instead, I want to write very truthfully about the experience I’ve had authoring this column—and, in doing so, hopefully encourage you, the reader, to consider writing one as well.
I’ll begin with a concession—writing these columns has been, unequivocally, the most taxing recurring event of my Duke career. The other night I was amused to discover that the “stress relief” album on my iTunes had transformed into the “most played” album as well—something I can attribute to Duke as a whole, but this column in particular. More semesters than not, every other week, I have found myself staring at a blank Microsoft Word document, trying to put together an 800 word literary puzzle from scratch. Far too often this took place on a very late Tuesday night or a very early Wednesday morning, much past my deadline for a Thursday-run (I’d thus like to express a belated thanks to all my editors!). I’ve sometimes said writing a column is like pulling a tooth—when it’s loose, the tooth comes right out, but when it’s not, it can be an agonizing process. Most of the time, column writing has been more reminiscent of the latter than the former.
But, though it is true that writing these columns has been the most stressful recurring event of my Duke career, I can also unequivocally say it has been the most rewarding. Despite the mental anguish and existential angst the process might have entailed, writing as a columnist for The Chronicle was something that I loved. As it is with many endeavors in life, the discomforting challenge I faced every time I stared at that blank Microsoft Word document afforded me a great deal of growth.
There are practical and salient perks to writing a column regularly. Comparing my first column to my penultimate, I’d say I’ve become a better writer. Columns grant you the opportunity to influence dialogue and establish a presence on campus (for better or worse). And when it comes time to depart Duke as a senior, regularly writing a column will have prepared you well for the act of personal statement composition—a skill supremely important for future employment, graduate admissions and countless other walks of life.
But these benefits pale in comparison to the ultimate boon of column writing. Put simply, columns challenge you to explore your identity and values on the page. There are many recurring themes in the columns I have written, some explicitly planted and others that have subconsciously arisen, but one more than any other has reigned supreme: “know thyself.” There are few other vehicles at Duke so aptly suited to ignite personal understanding in one’s heart and mind than that of column writing.
It was in this column that I first revealed my political beliefs at Duke and discussed my take on the campus’ political climate. It was in this column that I first came out publicly as a cancer survivor and reflected on the lessons I drew from this struggle. I have discussed my family’s journey to America and my love of country, the value I place on introspection and my grief during a time of tragedy. This month, I delineated that which drives me to do what I do in life. Reading back over what I’ve authored, I can, in a certain sense, trace the trajectory of my thinking and development over these last four years. I no longer believe some of what I’ve penned, but most messages still resonate deeply with me. I think it’s safe to say writing this column has required me to confront my identity and, in doing so, taken a significant role in shaping it.
Lastly, I think it is worth noting the value there is in taking a public stance on questions of importance—entering the “arena” as I like to call it, in reminiscence of a Teddy Roosevelt quote I greatly admire. Column writing forces you to become a gladiator, whether weak or strong, in the colosseum of Duke’s campus discourse. I have put my political views on display. At times, I have put my heart on the page. It is difficult, impossible even, to write columns about one’s identity without demonstrating a sort of vulnerability that many often fear, opening oneself up to misinterpretation, criticism and rejection.
But there is a great courage, value and significance in taking a public stance and making an argument—convincing people and promoting discussion. Duke, and life, has a plethora of pigeons and not enough sculptors—people just waiting to defecate all over the work someone else has created. Columnists, even the columnists who write the columns you hate, even the columnists who write the columns you disagree with, are sculptors. They are in the arena, taking a stand. I afford them all a great deal of respect.
I’d like to thank you all once more for traversing this journey with me, every other Thursday for the last three years. As much as this column has provided me the opportunity to grow as an individual, it has equally afforded me the opportunity to grow in my relationships with others—to learn from other people and hear what they have to say. When words you’ve written lead to discourse you otherwise never would have experienced, with people you otherwise never would have met, this is one of the greatest treasures a column can bring.
In closing, I have nothing left to say but this: writing this column has been a privilege. Thank you for reading.
Daniel Strunk is a Trinity senior. This is his final column.