It is hard to believe that this four-year journey is coming to an end. I’ve been in denial for the last couple of weeks, not quite sure what to say or do when people ask me how I feel about graduation. I usually just smile and say that I am excited, but I actually feel a lot like I did four years ago—anxious.
I almost did not come to Duke. My parents were very adamant about their desire to keep me close to home. With 1,224 miles between Durham and Houston, Duke is hardly around the corner ... and being the eldest daughter didn’t help either.
I had my own hesitations as well. I remember walking into my high school mentor’s classroom one afternoon after reading the infamous Rolling Stone article. Panicked, I doubted whether Duke was really the place for me. To this day I still remember the look Mr. Warren gave me. There behind his computer, sitting next to his inflatable palm tree with his thick white eyebrows furrowed, he gave me his what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about face.
With his usual patient yet blunt demeanor, he soothed my worries by wisely telling me that the next four years would not be easy, but that they would definitely be worth it. Shortly after, I took the leap and embarked on this unforgettable experience.
When I arrived, I was mesmerized by the Gothic architecture, the trees (yes, the trees) and, most of all, the amazing people that make up this university. But, I quickly realized that Mr. Warren was right—it wasn’t going to be easy.
I looked back several times during my freshman year, second-guessing my decision. Overwhelmed by classes, homesickness and this foreign environment, I almost transferred. It was not until I became a part of The Chronicle that I really found my niche at Duke.
I would have never found my way in this strange place without you, Julius. Thank you for pushing me to pick up my first story. Because of you, I dove in head first, learned everything that I could and rediscovered my passion for writing; I even found a few new interests.
I never could have imagined that first article on the impending smoking ban in North Carolina would lead to so much more.
There was that hectic and panicked thrilling trip to D.C. when I somehow got assigned to shoot the men’s basketball team at the White House the summer after they won the national championship. My friend and I had a huge panic attack when we got lost (the GPS took us to the wrong 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.), but by some miracle we made it. We parked in the first place we could find and sprinted toward the White House. We watched as our co-reporters turned the corner and ran toward us in sync. It was like a scene straight out of a movie that will forever play in my head in slow motion.
We met in the middle of the street, panting, trying to catch our breath and then composed ourselves. We watched Obama give his speech, Coach K hand him a Duke jersey with his name, and Kyle Singler turn bright red and smile ear-to-ear as he shook his hand. As if that day couldn’t get any better, we then took off for Baltimore to witness the men’s lacrosse team clinch the national title with CJ Costabile’s unforgettable game-ending goal.
That was only the start. Junior year, huge bags became tattooed under my eyes, as I stayed up until each paper was put to bed. I made the eerie yet serene trek to my room at 3 a.m. a hundred or so times. There were many arguments about the smallest details and many laughs. And a year and a half later, you all saw the product in the launch of our brand new website, Chron 2.0.
This year I was able to return to reporting and experience that rush that first drew me to the paper. An older and more confident version of myself, I spent over a month reporting a Towerview magazine article about North Carolina agricultural workers and their advocates. With each new interview, whether it was with a poultry worker, children who worked in the fields or dedicated activists, I gained a new appreciation for the privileges I was afforded growing up and the role I could and should be playing in the food industry.
I owe so much to The Chronicle and the people that stay up late into the night (or early in the morning) in 301 Flowers. Not only did it challenge me to think and work harder than anything else at Duke, but The Chronicle and the people who dedicate four years of their life to the organization pushed me to make some of my favorite memories.
These memories have truly made the last four years more than worth it, and as graduation looms over my head, I am anxious. Anxious to have new stories to tell.
Christina Peña is a Trinity senior. She is co-editor of Towerview magazine and former managing editor for online of The Chronicle. She wants to thank Chron V. 107 and Towerview V. 13 for the rollercoaster ride of a lifetime, and Emily and V for being there when she returned to the ground.