The first piece of journalism I ever wrote was my own obituary.
An exercise of journalistic practice, sure, but in hindsight, it represented an opportunity for self-reflection and real, true introspection. How do we remember ourselves?
Memory is a wondrous phenomenon. We have this power—this incredible, innate and unconscious power—to file moments and events and people and places into our minds, tucking them away neatly and pulling from experience when we so desire.
We remember what we want to, the bright and brilliant, the happy and harmonious, and we forget the dismal—or often, attempt to. Life has a strange way of begging us to look into the rearview in certain moments, and in others, asking us to pull the mirror off the dashboard and drive forward. Break up, forget. Heartbreak, remember. Failure, forget. Fortune, remember.
Technology and new media have fashioned tools for building our memory like never before. We can trace our lives through a systemic database of photographs, filtered and cropped and made more sentimental in a faded sepia tone with a cliché of words below. We can trace our feelings and our thoughts and our statuses through statuses, traversing a trail of tweets to piece together where we were and what we did. We can remember more easily and remember more tangibly. But how much can we remember that is purely the truth?
In a few short weeks, they’ll kick me out of Duke. Done. Graduated. Gone. And in this strange limbo of my current life, I’m forced to reflect on the past while looking miles ahead. I’m told to remember the moments that have defined my time at Duke while simultaneously looking for a home in a new city some 3,000 miles from here.
It’s the simplest and, often, the most gratifying tactic to reflect on our careers here in terms of accolades and events, whatever they may be for each of us. Perhaps you are graduating with highest honors. Maybe that defines you. Perhaps you were in the band. Maybe that defines you. For me, I wrote some articles and played in some games and found a team of individuals who I would live and die for. They define me. We have these things that allow us to compartmentalize our successes, to catalogue our memories—but sometimes the most valuable of lessons, the most promising and transferrable skills—sometimes these things are not things at all.
If I have learned but one thing in my waltz through Duke’s wonderland—in lectures and practices, in matches and in meetings—I have learned to operate only with truth. Be truthful with yourself, even brutally so, or you will stunt any personal growth, private or for the world to realize, that is supposed to flourish during this four year Durham stand.
I came here with wide eyes, and yet, narrow thoughts. I knew what I wanted to do and knew how to do it. I had a vision of my trajectory and was going to follow it. Life would be good and I would be good at it.
I was, in some regards, immeasurably wrong. Since setting foot on campus on a balmy, humid day in early August 2010, I have changed my major, put on some extra weight in some of the wrong places and had less success than I wanted on my stats sheet in the NCAA. I still cannot dance, have learned of heartbreak and am almost positive that basic math is as much as I can handle.
But yet, I have lived excitedly and I have loved immensely and I have surrounded myself with the most selfless and humble people that money can’t buy. I have been to a National Championship. I got a job that I would have not imagined in my wildest dreams and am moving to a city that is not home to anything I know. But soon it will be home, and that is terrifying and terrific all at once.
Things didn’t go the way I planned—but if in your four years you shed the original plans you had, I applaud how truthful you can be with yourself. I did it, and it is unimaginably liberating. Life was supposed to be good—and it is, instead, remarkable and unbelievable.
If you’re heading back up I-95 or jetting out west or back overseas, good luck. If you’re one so lucky to have time left in your Gothic-shaped hourglass, enjoy it all—the nights where your neck is cramped over a textbook, the few exhilarating, humiliating moments spent dancing atop the Shooters bar, the traffic on Erwin road—take it all in, because these are the memories that will write your story.
Tell the truth, to yourself and your friends. Eat more vegetables—your jeans will thank you for your honesty later. Drink more beer, for your wallet will thank you just the same. Write every day. Explore Durham and write your story. Find your truth and write it down. It’ll be more memorable than any paper you’ve ever penned before.
They say the truth can set you free—and apparently, so can a diploma.
With a heavy heart and an empty wallet, I say goodbye to Durham, and say always, Go Duke.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity senior. This is her final column. Send Ashley a message on Twitter @smashleycamando.