This senior column bears a certain level of nostalgia for me, as writing columns was my first point of entry into The Chronicle. Joining this community provided my window into an experience that ultimately shaped my path at Duke and my career aspirations beyond it. Three years ago, I began writing every other week about the happenings of the Duke community. Within my lived experience, which I recognize is narrow, I needed to find something to talk about—arguments and narratives that I hoped could be of consequence. Words with power.

Becoming a student journalist taught me how to see clearly for what felt like the first time. It required me to pick up a magnifying glass and scrutinize Duke’s status quo more closely. It taught me to ask unexpected questions and dissect the systems that I took for granted, but most importantly, present ways to build them back up. The task of a journalist is not only to paint the world as it is, but also to envision what it can be. I have not nailed down this method of seeing and searching and being; it is a lifelong pursuit, one I am excited to say I have only just begun.

The people I have met through The Chronicle have challenged me to become a stronger, more relentless, fuller version of myself. They pushed me to grapple with alternative theories and worldviews, embrace the parts of myself that are quirky and feel comfortable—eager, even—to keep carving my own path when it diverges from what I have known. I find a deep kind of solace in this community. The students who gather in 301 Flowers spend time across all corners of campus, and it is this variety of background and experiences that makes the group all the more welcoming. We share among us a powerful appreciation for telling stories and helping to give others a voice. I imagine that my true recognition about how formative this experience was, and my gratitude for the people who made it so, will only grow as my undergraduate years stretch further into my rearview mirror. 

Chasing stories as a journalist sometimes yields facts that are not pretty, or circumstances that are uncomfortable. But it is absolutely critical that Duke students keep digging, and never just accept what they are told without carrying out due diligence. Asking tough questions has never been more important on our campus, especially given that student activism has consistently been a spark for tangible reform throughout Duke’s past. 

I will leave Duke during a time in which the University has reached a crossroads. Duke is grappling with questions about the kind of institution it wants to be and figuring out the steps it must take in order to get there. Students are thinking about how the school can build a more inclusive housing model that fosters a culture where students are inclined to engage with one another based on common passions rather than common identities. We are demanding that the institution develop a plan to condemn hate speech on campus. We are calling attention to workers who do not benefit from Duke’s minimum wage, asking that Board of Trustee meetings become transparent once again and proposing new ways to memorialize our complex history.

Walking around campus, these collective conversations are bubbling to the surface. It feels as though they must reach a point of convergence soon. The energy is palpable, and students are engaging in these discussions relentlessly. I wish I could participate while this important moment continues to unfold in the semesters to come. This year's columnists, who I have had the pleasure to edit and build close relationships with, have approached these subjects with a rare combination of tenacity and empathy. Indeed, if anyone ever wants to take a collective pulse of a university in any given moment, checking out the newspaper’s opinion page is a great place to start.          

After four years, I feel an enduring gratitude to Duke for the ways in which it has shaped me and helped me to continue the process of defining who I am. At the same time, I have never felt stronger in my conviction that there are important questions to be asked, systems to be reformed and social structures to be shattered. Feeling grateful does not mean that we must accept the institution in its entirety without acknowledging its shortcomings, and daring to affirm that they can—and must—be improved. As students, we can recognize that Duke has afforded us countless opportunities and propelled us forward without pausing in our efforts to hold it accountable and better it. My peers, professors and friends at Duke have taught me to believe that if you care enough about something you think is broken, then get to work and fix it.

I hope that the serious consideration and implementation of such changes could yield a stronger Duke. A place that is less opaque about its administrative decision-making and more forthcoming about its priorities. A culture in which students don’t feel compelled to cling to common experiences, and instead grow comfortable venturing into unknown territory with people unlike themselves because doing so is expected. A more inclusive campus for all students, who seek every kind of Duke experience. 

Undertaking in this rigorous debate, both as a student and as a student journalist, has been an energizing experience. It has been challenging and rewarding. The work is never done, and I thank 301 Flowers—and all of the people in it—for showing me that this pursuit is worthwhile. I can promise that I will keep at it beyond my time at Duke. To those who will walk across the Chapel quad for years to come, I urge you to keep at it too.

Carly Stern is a Trinity senior. She served as a managing opinion editor of The Chronicle’s 113th volume. She would like to thank Leah, Jackson, Jack, this year's columnists and countless others at The Chronicle for making her experience so meaningful.