It’s been a whirlwind, huh? The second you arrive on Duke’s campus, your belongings are literally jarred loose from your vehicle by some bewildering students. You immediately attend information sessions, meet with advisers, introduce yourself and your mildly interesting hometown 500 times (for me it went like this: “I’m from Jacksonville, Florida … BUT my parents are from Egypt!” followed by fielding numerous questions about pyramids and hieroglyphics). You make up something that you want to study, but say it in a really confident way, and—in the blink of an eye—your freshman year has begun. That is the nature of Orientation Week, and it is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Now, as the hurricane has passed and you come back down to the reality of a routine and schedule, this is a fantastic time—if you haven’t had the chance yet—to sit down and think critically about what this year will look like.
When I think about the most meaningful thing I can do as senior class president, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is supporting freshmen during their transition. Every upperclassmen has a few thoughts about what they wish they had done or known during their first year at Duke. Senior Class Council recently created a “Duke Seniors Words of Wisdom” Facebook page for seniors to submit “what they wish they knew as freshmen,” and we’ve been overwhelmed with a strong response. I have had these conversations a fair amount and would love to humbly submit three particular points that I and many others think will help make your year as amazing as possible.
1. When the going gets tough, sit out on the Bryan Center Plaza. Duke has truly pushed me and so many others to think beyond what we used to conceive as our “limits.” Being around a group of motivated students who care about making an impact on the world, understand complex issues and love getting involved as much as possible has made me a more determined and focused person. It has expanded my horizons. Still, the byproduct of this, as so many of us find, is that life can become so stressful that you feel too overwhelmed to appreciate what you have all around you.
What is one to do when that time comes? Go to the Plaza. Invite a friend over for lunch and grab a swingy bench. Or just sit there and absorb your surroundings. When it turns to winter (or, for those of us from further south, October) and it’s too cold for the Plaza, take up residency at The Marketplace and just set aside three hours around dinnertime just to relax, not thinking at all about the work in front of you. These are the moments—connecting with friends, reflecting on your experiences, enjoying everything going on around you—that you’ll appreciate most.
2. Be intentional about reaching out to others. One of the most astounding things about Duke is the diversity of its students. On your hall alone, you are bound to find people from all over the globe who believe different things and have different perspectives on the world. Freshman year on East Campus is a fantastic time to stretch yourself and to challenge your worldview; there is no better way to do this than to engage with the people around you. Don’t ever feel hesitant saying hello to someone on Main Quad or sitting with someone new at The Marketplace. You won’t be judged, because—trust me—the other person is likely feeling just as insecure are.
3. Keep track of who you want to become, not who you feel you’re told to be. College is a place to become the person you truly want to become, not the person you are told to become or the person you think you need to become to ‘fit in.’ Think about what you value as a person—whether that be family, close friendships, good health, authenticity—keep checking that list throughout the year to make sure those values are still being maintained. For me, this meant growing deeper in my Christian faith, developing my passion for supporting young people from disadvantaged communities and trying out leadership roles that allowed me to bring my peers together in cool ways. When things got challenging, these things—especially my faith—helped me stay both motivated and confident in who I am.
If there’s one thing we all want you to hear, it’s this: Always make decisions based on what you believe and what you value as a person, not what you think others expect of you. Whether it is a decision about what classes to take or what to do on a Friday night, if you don’t follow your heart, the outcome every time is that you regret the decision, you feel untrue to yourself and you miss out on so many amazing things you could have been doing that fit you better. When you look back at your freshman year and your Duke experience, you want to be able to say that you pursued things that you truly cared about and had an amazing time doing them.
That’s all I’ve got for you for now. I encourage other upperclassmen to post advice in the comments section and the Senior Words of Wisdom Facebook page. To the Class of 2017: Enjoy your semester, and—on behalf of the senior class and the Duke community as a whole—welcome to the Duke family!
Andrew Leon Hanna is a Trinity senior and the senior class president.