Last Wednesday, our men’s basketball team blew out Louisville 82-56, but that wasn’t the only reason the game was important to me. It was also the first game I was able to go to with my stepdad. After wanting to see a Duke basketball game for years, he finally flew to Durham from our hometown in California to go to one ... and it couldn’t have been better deserved.

Aside from my mom, my stepdad is the person most responsible for my being here at Duke. Since he became a part of my family when I was four years old, he’s endlessly promoted me and my academics. He always told me that, as long as I kept working hard to achieve my goals, he’d keep working hard to make them possible. Adopting someone else’s child as your own must be intimidating enough, and that’s without them later wanting to go to an expensive private university. In middle and high school I rested assured, though, that my dad would do everything in his power to ensure I had access to whatever educational opportunities I could achieve. He never treated me differently from my sister — his biological daughter — and has been in my corner for as long as I can remember. As I’ve grown older, I've come to appreciate this more and more; I'm so lucky that, although he doesn't have to support me — many stepfathers do much, much less — he wants to support me anyway. This makes it all the more meaningful to me that he believes in me; he genuinely wants me to succeed.

With my stepdad visiting and a stressful midterm season starting all at once, I’ve reflected a lot during the past week about this kind of un-obligatory, unconditional support — and how much my friends help me survive my life at Duke. My roommate and my best friend are two of the main reasons I stay sane here.

Although my current roommate and I were close friends before last semester, studying abroad together in Berlin for four months cemented our friendship like nothing else could. Since then, she’s been a daily source of encouragement. I'll never forget how, after I was hospitalized in Europe with a severe case of mono, she said she’d rather push me around everywhere in a wheelchair than let me go home to America. Luckily, my mono got better and it never came to that, but I know she would have done as much as she could if I needed her help. She still does everything she can to support me in spite of her busy schedule: She never hesitates to read my writing every night when I compulsively ask her to check for grammar mistakes, and she's always there to hear my stress-induced rants at the end of the day. Last week, amid an insanely busy week of internship searching, she listened to my emotional dramas with time she didn’t have enough of in the first place. As the semester goes on and stress keeps piling up, she’s the person I can always count on to make my day a little bit better.

Aside from my roommate, my best friend is perhaps the person I respect the most at Duke. In spite of working multiple jobs on top of her schoolwork, she’s a constant advocate for her friends. She’s seen me at my best, but also at my worst; she dragged me crying out of Perkins last year while I was going through a particularly rough relationship, and last weekend she spent hours helping me edit an application for an award I was nominated for. She’s the first person I tell when I have exciting news, and the person I go to when I need help. Even with her own extremely busy and stressful schedule, she always makes me feel like I’m a priority in her life — something few people (especially busy, college-aged people) are able to do, and I’m so thankful to her for it.

Like all Duke students this time of year, I’m stressed. But that’s okay, because I’m lucky to have people who are there for me in the good times and in the bad. I’ve realized this week exactly why I’m lucky to have them: They don't have to be there, but they are anyway. In a busy world with obligations and deadlines around every corner, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by academic and career goals. The people who make the time to support those they care about, then, are that much more valuable. I hope I’m as good a friend to them as they are to me, and I appreciate so much the time and energy they’ve shared with me.

Jessica Williams is a Trinity junior and Recess media production editor.