Every other week this past school year, I sat down to contemplate my thoughts, explicate my world and unwind in 1,000 words.

At a discussion with an alumni Chronicle columnist last September who has pursued a career in journalism, I posed the question, “Do you think you write for yourself, or do you write for your readers? What makes you do what you do?”

When I asked the question, I had just started writing columns and knew I had not formulated my own answer yet. Later, when I was alone, I sifted through questions that could guide a response. Do I write with my intended audience in mind because I want them to perceive my perspective a certain way? Do I write to start a discourse—or contribute to it? Is it really much more simple than that—maybe writing is just a space where I can appease my own thoughts and vent when the world is pissing me off?

At the beginning, I reworked each phrase, time and time again. I felt like I could be judged by each sentence and was a bit intimidated by the permanence of a byline. I had trouble forgetting that every future employer could stumble upon my words when they Googled my name. To be honest, I still bear this in mind. But soon, the ability to write freely and easily began to feel like a muscle I had strengthened—a muscle that knew what to do on its own without being prompted. I liked feeling strong.

When I began, I think I wrote for myself. I viewed these 1,000 words as a space to hash out my thoughts and explore my opinions. It helped me determine why I had them. Often, I sat down with a vague idea and found myself completely surprised by the end result.

I have both resented and appreciated this regimented schedule that has forced me to constantly pay attention to the world and myself. I often feel it would be easier to push my feelings under the rug for a time and focus on the more practical tasks that Duke demands. But what started as a mere interest turned into a different way of seeing the world—of looking at my world with sharper eyes. Writing pushed me to become to my own ethical watchdog and to ask a lot of questions. The Duke that I had adored without reservation, that had thrilled and exhilarated me during my freshman year, began to come undone. I could see the blind spots, the parts that warranted further attention.

Aspects of Duke life I had accepted as imperfect no longer seemed like they should be accepted. I couldn’t turn off this sense of scrutiny. For better or worse, this critique was my new sharpened sight. My classes were teaching me to evaluate systems of power and see structures of inequity; all of a sudden, I felt as though I found them everywhere. I was unsettled and overwhelmed by this, but I felt compelled to convey this dissatisfaction in that hopes that it could be used productively.

As a student, I am accustomed to attainable goals. If I study, I should be able to perform well on the exam. If I extensively research the prompt, I should be able to write a solid paper. A lot of the questions I started asking don’t have answers. This frustrates me. These issues cannot and should not be ignored, but I also know the world will never be a perfect place.

I want to learn to be satisfied with small gains along a larger journey. I still haven’t figured out how to let go, to release the idealistic standards for the way I want the world to work, to just be—without so much analysis. I don’t want to be held accountable 100 percent of the time, for my own peace of mind. Maybe that’s a selfish wish.

Writing began as a personal desire, but it has evolved to feel like a public responsibility. While the pull to express myself is intrinsic, I now also feel an external tug. There is an irrevocable power in the permanence of words. Once they are released, they have asserted their existence. They demand a seat at the table. They can reach anyone and everyone. They can also reach no one, which is refreshing sometimes.

Student journalists have shaped social movements throughout American history—from civil rights sit-ins to Vietnam protests—and they dictate the course of discussion in the same manner here at Duke. A trusted professor recently told me, with beautiful honesty, that University campuses are petri dishes for unfolding issues that society hasn’t yet figured out how to handle.

Here, and on campuses all over the country, we hash it out. Duke is a complicated place. It is a passionate place and a charged place, brimming with energy. Our writers unveiled alleged crimes and instances of racial discrimination. They praised peers for groundbreaking research in medicine. They honored our beloved coach when he achieved his 1,000th win and criticized the administration when it mishandled a lawsuit that would forever shape our school’s legacy. They have cried out when students commit acts of hate.

Time and time again, they question authority unflinchingly. Regardless of one’s preferences or politics, we must admit with some respect that student journalists create a lot of un-ignorable noise. Most importantly, they set the agenda for our conversations.

Once a powerful story breaks, its words are irretrievable. Countless administration emails—no matter how delicately phrased—cannot squelch the magnitude of a student’s voice once it has escaped.

These 1,000 words provide room for me to undo the workings of my thoughts and permit the creative ramblings of a restless mind to take form.

I sort of feel as though I’ve caught a bug. I feel what words can do, and I don’t want to relinquish that power.

Carly Stern is a Trinity sophomore. This is her final column of the semester.