I know the tops of my shoes better than the backs of my hands. I see the cracks in the sidewalk and the width of the stairs more than the engravings on doorways or the pollen-caked arches. A few weeks ago, I was walking across Main Quad, hands on my backpack straps, when a senior friend startled me as he passed by, saying, “Hey Tyler, try looking up every once in a while.”
Getting past my initial embarrassment, I tried to keep my head held high for the rest of the day. At my friend’s suggestion, I’ve tried looking around—often in more than the literal sense. Some time in between checking out the tiled floor in Au Bon Pain and noticing a coffee spill in Von der Heyden, I lifted my head and thought about what I was doing.
As my sophomore year comes to a close, I have the privilege of recognizing that I am as into university life as I probably ever will be. I’m two years in with two years to go, at the pinnacle of the hill looking down. It is with this in mind that I reflect upon my own foray into college life, with the hope that the next two years will be more enlightening and that I will continue to create my identity and understand who I am and who I want to be.
Choosing to attend Duke was a blessing and a curse. I came in with a raging superiority complex and a drive that was fueled by a supportive home life and unchecked by the AP classes that my high school threw at me. Now that I am nearly finished with my major’s introductory courses, my ego has been tamed and my motivation has been forced more than ever to come from myself. I met people in my freshmen hall whose ideas of pursuing a life dedicated to research or post-doctoral studies challenged the vision I had for my own path of getting a bigger house than I grew up in, in the middle of an American suburb, with a white picket fence around it.
In terms of student life on campus, I am at a juncture in which the extracurricular organizations I joined are opening up leadership positions for me. Coming to college, I signed up and tried out for all of the policy, public speaking and political organizations I could find. Two years later, I have a comprehensive understanding of how a Moot Court round works and how a Model United Nations committee is conducted even though, coming to college, I had never heard of the former and barely knew anything about the latter. I’ve made significant time commitments to these organizations, as well as others. Now, well entrenched in my commitments to these organizations, I can’t help but wonder how my involvement with them will progress and how my next two years will expose me to other opportunities.
Starting college with fewer friends than I could count on my hands, I’ve now begun forming relationships that I find meaningful. With the initial rush of orientation settled, the subsequent rush of ‘rush’ come and gone and my place in the Duke community more defined, I increasingly find myself interacting with the same people. Not to say that this is necessarily bad, but the last two years have sorted and filtered my day-to-day interactions. These relationships are subdivided by people sharing my major, people in my living group, people in my extracurriculars and people whose schedules happen to align with mine. It is worth noting that I continue to meet interesting new people, but the frequency of these encounters has decreased. My roots have been planted, but I lament the thought that, as I become a senior, they will turn to stone.
A career seems far away, but jobs and internships seem very close. I’ve understood that I will eventually need to make myself marketable and regularly question whether I have taken advantage of the opportunities afforded to me by this University. The Career Center and email blasts sent out by my advisor are helpful, but, in order to really invest in my future, the responsibility falls on me to initiate it. Often, I’m so consumed making sure that I meet the deadlines for my classes, finish my homework and reply to emails that I forget to think about the big picture of what I’m doing.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” A close lifting buddy of mine told me he realized that people are going to grind through most of their life. He said the best thing to do is to find something you love and grind at it. I blinked, and, suddenly, I’m halfway through college—but, I now see, the relationships I made and the path I’ve begun going down are my college experience. I was so caught up in looking down that I forgot to look around.
Tyler Fredricks is a Trinity sophomore. This is his final column of the semester.