It was the first day of classes this year, and I had just spoken at an Orientation Week event the day before. As I hurriedly rushed by the West Campus bus stop to get to class, a freshman girl with an oversized backpack had stopped herself before getting on the bus. The few words that came next made my day: “You did a really great job yesterday and I appreciated it a lot.” It wasn’t complex, it didn’t take a long time, and it may seem like nothing to a third party observer, but those words were truly the most encouraging, supportive and impactful words I could have heard in that moment. Looking back, these words were a shining moment in what became my most challenging semester here at Duke. These types of moments, ordinary as they may seem, can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
The truth is that often those who are most in need are not necessarily halfway across the world but surrounding us every day. They are the Duke students sitting across from us at the Loop, living a door down from us in Kilgo and walking by us on Science Drive. The need for personal support and encouragement on Duke’s campus is real, and it’s an opportunity for us all.
The statistics tell a grim story of students who sense that they don’t belong, who feel isolated, and who face serious challenges. Back when I myself was a freshman, I asked my wise old senior buddy Josh to tell me the greatest thing he’s learned in college. His response: “just how broken everyone is.” That sounded like an absolute downer at the time, but I have grown to better understand what he meant. The truth is that regardless of how we seem on the outside, each of us is affected by insecurities, stresses, personal problems and conflicts in our lives that weigh on us heavily.
One shining silver lining that comes out of this, though, is that peer influence is a major determining factor of people’s experiences as young adults, and often directly affects how people view themselves for the rest of their lives. This means that there is one particular group of people that is most situated to change these realities through personal support: us. So, each of us has something vital to offer that goes beyond what our resume says we can do. It is when we fully realize this potential, and understand that we all share similar challenges, that we can support one another to make this Duke community all that it can be.
As someone who has focused a lot of my two and half years at Duke to building community through Sophomore Class Council and dPS, I strongly believe there is little that can replace the personal support of a peer who cares. No accomplishment, no accolade and no GPA can substitute the joy of treating others like part of a family, and the appreciation of being treated like part of a family. This can mean the little things like a smile across the quad, a “hello” entering class or a kind word to a random person. Even further, checking up on people we haven’t seen in a while and paying visits to old friends—these are things that truly impact people’s lives.
So this Spring 2013, let’s jump at every opportunity to make someone’s day, no matter how small of an act it may seem at the time. Each semester at Duke sees many people who are waiting for someone to reach out to them in the simplest of ways… for someone to acknowledge that their value lies not in what they’ve accomplished but in who they are as human beings. These seemingly ordinary acts can impact their college experience – even their lives – for the better in ways we never imagined.
Andrew Leon Hanna, Trinity '14