I run to relieve stress. I’ve been going outside periodically since high school to burn steam and forget about whatever it is that’s been bothering me. There’s something about the feeling of sweat on my skin and the total exhaustion that comes from finishing a long run that clears my mind like nothing else. The first semester of my sophomore year at Duke was a particularly stressful time for me. One day in October, I was running up Erwin Road near the hospital, and I felt myself nearing the end of my endurance. I decided to stop. It’s never a great feeling to cut a workout short, but every runner has those days. Yet, just as I was stopping, an elderly man, who was walking in the opposite direction, quipped at me, “Keep going young man!” It was as if my own grandfather was encouraging me onwards. I couldn’t bear the thought of stopping in front of this man who could barely walk, so I kept going. I ran to Flowers Drive and then kept running until I was back at my dorm. Now, whenever things get tough, I can’t help but think of that moment.
Well-timed encouragement can do wonders. So here is some unsolicited advice for you new freshmen and really for anyone who’s reading. You’re at Duke for a reason. You have already demonstrated talent and drive, but don’t let it stop there. Whatever you do, don’t rest on the laurels of your high school achievements. This is college and, frankly, that stuff doesn’t matter much anymore. It’s time for new endeavors and new accomplishments, even if these things seem incredibly difficult. If my time at Duke has taught me anything, it’s that hard work and determination can see you through the most daunting of tasks.
Freshmen, your classmates and friends will soon tell you (if they haven’t already) that it’s OK to do worse than you did in high school. That it’s alright for someone who was the valedictorian to slip a little. The pond has gotten much bigger, and not everyone can be a big fish. Multiple times, during Blue Devil Days last year, I heard upperclassmen preaching this gospel to pre-frosh who barely even knew what a syllabus was.
To some degree, this is true, but it should never become an excuse for complacency and laziness. Yes, Duke is hard and there are incredibly bright people here, but don’t confuse that intelligence with a strong work ethic. I’m blessed to be friends with some pretty intelligent people, and the ones who do the best academically are invariably the hardest working. Conversely, I know absolutely brilliant people at Duke who have squandered their potential in a variety of ways. The temptations of college can prove too much for some people. Whether you are on scholarship or your parents are floating the check, paying for college is no joke and you owe it to the people who have sacrificed for you to see that you get the most out of the experience. More importantly, you owe it to yourself. As a senior, I can assure you that college does end, and you will be required to leave. You’ll also have to be comfortable looking back, years from now, at how you spent your time at Duke.
I realize that, after O-week and the wholesome debauchery that is your first set of section parties, this will sound a lot like chastisement. It’s not. I was a freshman too, and I went through the same set of experiences that you all have with varying degrees of success. Having done that, I know what’s going to happen next. You’ll get your first set of midterms back and be upset about the result. Those of you in chemistry and math classes will probably be very upset. Your reaction shouldn’t be to blame it on the curve or the intelligence of your peers. You should be proud of the latter and grateful for the former. Instead, you should take that first set of grades as a challenge. What worked in high school is probably not going to do the trick in college. It’s a different ballgame now, but that doesn’t mean you should just call it quits.
By virtue of being here, you have already demonstrated that you have the talent necessary to succeed; the Duke Admissions Office doesn’t accept people with the assumption that they will fill out the bottom half of the class. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to graduate with honors, but it does mean we should all give it our best shot. Work hard in class, and, outside of it, do what you need to lead a balanced life. So, keep going young men and women, and don’t stop short of fulfilling your full potential, because you’ve already made it here.
Colin Scott is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday.