Even for alumni halfway across the world, the last few months have been a cause for celebration. Duke football. The phoenix rising from the ashes. What could be more inspiring than the ultimate punch line in college sports transforming into the ultimate parable?
As former Dukies, we’re bursting with pride. Yet, even though we’re currently expending most of our mental capacity on sweet-talking our way into a ride to Charlotte with that alum-we-sorta-met-that-one-time-at-that-one-Happy-Hour, if we examine ourselves closely enough, there is a tiny (but non-trivial) trace of an emotional paradox.
Implicit in the satisfaction we feel in the national statement our football team made these past few weeks is the realization that our community—the one we left just last May—is changing. Its identity is growing and evolving, but it’s also just becoming different—and that is a teensy bit scary.
Our football renaissance seems to be a proxy for what Duke as an institution strives for—the ability and courage to reinvent something, anything. When visiting campus before matriculation, tour guides would always point out the ungodly amounts of construction, telling us there was no better sign that Duke was “hungry.” Maybe every other university is similarly striving towards progress—but with new pretty glass boxes randomly appearing on campus every couple of years, there’s no doubt the folks that run our community are unafraid of change.
Duke football isn’t the same as it was last year. But Duke isn’t the same as it was last year. There are new programs, new people, even a new Plaza. And that’s the thing about being forever tied to an institution that we’re only present at for four years. From here on out, it’s always going to be a little unrecognizable.
When many of us returned to Duke for homecoming, we realized we weren’t actually coming home. Duke was where we went to school, and home was now Washington, D.C. or New York City or Palo Alto or Boise. We didn’t come back to a familiar dorm room, didn’t roll out of bed and dash off to class, worried we’d be late. Instead, we swept in and—after a weekend of hugs and hellos—swept out.
And those friendships we had at Duke? They’re not the same, either. Study sessions have become Skype sessions. Life updates are status updates. And spending time with some of our favorite people means saving up for that next plane ticket. We’re not college kids sharing queso at the Dillo. The Dillo doesn’t even exist anymore. Instead, we’re post-grads wading into an ocean of adulthood, reaching out to each other in an attempt to stay afloat.
And yet this post-Duke community is still a Duke community. In every single one of our medical school interviews, for instance, there’s been a friendly face, a former Blue Devil to show us around what just might be the next stage of our lives. Every time we see a Duke shirt in a coffee shop down the street or an airport on the other side of the globe, we still want to race over to say hello. There seems to be an understanding that we belonged to something very special, and now we have to work a little harder to stay a part of it.
For many of us, that means writing the long emails and sending the short text messages. It means staying up way past bedtime to take phone calls from friends just off the night shift, or waking up early to Skype that person 10 time zones away. It means recognizing that some friendships were just temporary, and that drifting away from them isn’t necessarily a failure. And it also means realizing that Duke alumni with whom we never shared a campus might also become some of our closest friends.
There is much for us to learn from people who never went to Duke. There are new homes for us to create outside of its walls. We’ll be awed and humbled six dozen times by how sheltered, how ignorant, how small and silly and young we were. And yet, for us gap year columnists at least, we know that at the very heart of the matter, we still bleed blue. We don’t really know what that will mean in five years or in 50. Duke will adapt and change and reinvent itself. We’ll swell with pride as we hear of the next triumph, and shake our heads as we learn of the next scandal. Yet even if we can’t recognize Duke, we’ll never entirely leave it. It’s this place that’s a part of us, in ways both good and bad.
And even though Duke’s constant change scares us, it also inspires us. That’s what we hope to do ourselves—to grow and adapt, to recreate and reconsider, to build upon a fundamental set of core values to construct an ever-shifting identity we can’t conceive of now. Our school is hungry for what happens next, and so are we. Duke will never be the same, but we'll still feel connected to it. Our Duke friendships will change, but we’ll still hold them close. And the people we were at Duke—we'll never really be those people again. But then again, we're not supposed to be.
Paul Horak, Sanjay Kishore, Kristen Lee and Joselyn Streid are all Duke graduates from the Class of 2013. This column is the final installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written on the gap year experience, as well as the diverse ways Duke graduates can pursue and engage with the field of medicine outside the classroom. Send the columnists a message on Twitter @MindTheGapDuke.