“When did you change?!” My hometown friend almost shouted the question at me. She and I grew up in the same church back home. We co-led our youth group and went on at least 6,000 retreats. She knows where I come from—geographically and personally, culturally and spiritually. If I’ve changed, she’d be the one to see it.
I looked in a mirror the next day and found myself staring at a stereotype: close-cropped hair, freshly shaven face, Duke-blue dress shirt and khaki Polo shorts. I was forced to confront a troubling question: What happened to all those baggy cargo shorts and wrinkled t-shirts that I carried into Randolph dorm two years ago? When did I start wearing dress shirts to class? Heavens to Betsy… have I turned preppy?
The night before, I had squeezed myself into the back row of an auditorium packed with alternatively eager- and desperate-looking upperclassmen. We were all there for a corporate recruiting presentation, and not just any corporate recruiting presentation: this was a “Big Three” strategy consulting firm. My attendance raised more questions: What do consultants actually do all day? Am I a sellout if I’m interested in consulting, even if I somewhat ironically became interested because of my DukeEngage project? How did my nature-loving, groupthink-defying, supposedly countercultural self end up in that auditorium?
The next day I went to my econ class taught by Michael Munger, the libertarian professor who preaches market economics like born-again Baptists preach Jesus’ salvation. I found myself listening attentively as he explained that profits come from voluntary exchanges that improve the welfare of both buyer and seller. So, profits are a good thing: Trade benefits both parties and naturally produces profits as a byproduct, even if they’re shared unevenly. My do-gooder, nonprofit-oriented self of two years ago would never have entertained the thought that profits could be good—after all, they all go to those evil corporations. (I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.)
After class, I asked Munger what he thinks about Walmart. He praised the mega-retailer for doing business more efficiently than small firms and, thus, allowing people, especially poor people, to get more things they want and need. (He did bring up the company’s undeniable imperfections, like the 1.5 million-woman class action lawsuit alleging systematic gender discrimination. And then there are the bribes paid to government officials by Wal-Mart de Mexico, which the New York Times called “an aggressive and creative corrupter.”) I felt perturbed that I couldn’t field a decent argument about the chain’s negative impacts. Am I drifting from my liberal roots? Will I someday join the endless stream of Blue Devils who earnestly call themselves “economically conservative but socially liberal” like they were all the first person to ever come up with such a novel position?
When we finished talking, I walked over to the East Campus bus stop, from which I could see Randolph dorm and think back to freshman year. I entered Duke after a great relationship during my gap year. Earlier, my high school best friend and I dated for well over a year. At Duke, I’ve had one good but relatively short relationship. I consider myself a boyfriend type. I actually LIKE commitment. So why only one relationship in two years? Maybe it’s because undergrads here go on dates about as often as our football team goes to bowl games. Or maybe it’s because I’ve become so wrapped up in my own grades and growth that I won’t make the time for a significant other. There isn’t room in my color-coded Google calendar for romance.
These tales of junior-year angst might sound like a superficial mid-college crisis. But I’m telling them to better articulate that nagging question: Have I changed?
I guess I have changed. But at the same time, I’m still my old self. I still laugh when my friends make bad puns, and I still love it when girls laugh at my bad puns. I still go to church every week, although it’s with Methodists rather than my childhood Episcopalians. I still value community service and helping people to help themselves. I still go camping whenever I can. I still have this curiosity about the people around me and the world around us. I still talk with my family all the time. I still prefer the hard copy of the newspaper to the web site, because I’m still an old fogey at heart. I still love Spanish and anything related to Latin America. I still think dachshunds are the most perfect dog breed God ever placed on this earth. So there are a lot of ways, big and small, that I’ve stayed the same.
And some of the ways I have changed are definite improvements; my time at Duke has deepened aspects of my identity that I most value. I’ve become a better listener, question-asker and writer. I’ve found service opportunities on campus, in Durham and in Latin America. I’ve studied the New Testament and spent a week at a desert monastery. I spent fully 10 percent of 2012 with PWILD, hiking and being outdoorsy. And last fall, I met a beautiful girl named Gracie.
So yes, I guess I have changed. And I might change some more. But maybe these changes aren’t so bad, if I stay committed to the things that matter most. Like Gracie—who, by the way, is a dachshund.
Andrew Kragie is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Tuesday.