This week, a cohort of fresh, nervous and exhilarated new students will descend on Duke's campus. In their first few days they will hear excellent music, grudgingly attend mandatory information sessions, get drunk and make new friends. Although first-year orientation often gets painted as a boozy, and sometimes dangerous, week for students not yet used to college life, it can help absorb and diffuse much of the shock that accompanies the transition to college if done right. In an attempt to help the new students make the most of their first weeks and months at Duke, we offer several suggestions on how to get the most value out of first-year orientation.
First, attend as many of the optional events as you can. Although you may be scrambling to move in, try to make time for activities that might introduce you to aspects of campus life with which you are unfamiliar. Not every concert, meal and excursion will inspire or delight you, but each will present an opportunity to meet new people and learn more about the University. In particular, we recommend ducking into Jazz at the Mary Lou, on Wednesday, and heading to downtown Durham for a meal on Thursday evening.
Second, explore Durham. Although it can appear sleepy and quaint, the Bull City is a vibrant and dynamic town, filled with charming coffee shops, hip music clubs, beautiful parks and hiking trails and a collection of exquisite—and oftentimes quite affordable—restaurants. Duke can sometimes feel insulated, hermetically sealed-off from the wider community, but trekking into Durham—even without a car—does not require much effort and promises to add depth and richness to your college experience.
Lastly, let yourself become a little disoriented. Do not be afraid to get lost or to push back against Duke's traditions or norms. Moments of confusion and discomfort often morph into instances of self-discovery, and we hope you will not shy away from opportunities to encounter something strange or unexpected. Doing so may bend the arc of your college experience away from whatever trajectory you imagined it would follow, but growth and change are precisely what college should offer you. Acclimating to Duke's culture is important, but always try to remain the author of your own experience, and resist the temptation to subscribe, in whole or part, to someone else's idea of what college ought to be.
As you settle in at Duke, remember that being a member of a University community does not mean blindly accepting its norms, but constantly challenging them. Critically engaging with Duke's institutions and culture—exposing the weaknesses and celebrating the successes—is one of the most meaningful ways to improve the community. What sets Duke apart from other elite schools is its openness to change: its ability to flex and shift with each successive generation of students. So, embrace the traditions that resonate with you, modify those that need fixing and discard those that fall short. The students define the culture, and you now have a chance to decide what kind of school you want Duke to be.