Here’s a sad truth—most of you will come to college armed with passion, excitement and a thirst for learning, but many of you will not leave that way.
You’ve probably heard the timeless adage, “you don’t learn everything in college from your classes.” While you’ll certainly think this to yourself as you lie on the bathroom floor after one too many drinks during O-Week, don’t sell that class thing short. You didn’t come to Duke University just for an education in blood alcohol level. And, if you did, chances are you’re in the wrong place.
But let’s go back to my infamous freshman year. I was excited for the first day of classes! During my initial hour in the white walls of the classroom, I endlessly traced the outline of “Duke University” written on my notebook, awed with the realization that I was finally in COLLEGE. So awed by this realization was I that I forgot to actually listen in class—something I didn’t seem to remember until the semester was over and I checked my grade on ACES. Whoops.
Slowly, I began to understand that class was actually intended as a place to learn, not to a) plan my weekend, b) pretend to type notes while actually checking Buzzfeed or c) stare at a clock for exactly an hour and twenty-five minutes. Once I tuned in to the words of my professors, I realized that these were quite possibly the most brilliant people I had ever met. Yes, on paper, they might have showed me a new tense in Ancient Greek or a unique interpretation of a painting, but, in reality, I was learning so much more. They were teaching me how to think.
Critical and analytical thinking—it’s a hard thing to measure in tangible results, and an even harder thing to discuss. What does it mean? I’ve thought about this for a while, and I’ve determined it’s all about the connections you can make. It’s about understanding how the whole world relates to itself. It’s about reading a sentence in a book and connecting it to the time it was written and the technological innovations that era had and seeing how it relates to our own society.
After all, that is why we are getting a liberal-arts education. It is not so we can divide ourselves into groups marked “Science” person versus “Humanities” person, and then slowly devolve into these little sub-groups until the only thing we can discuss is our one academic specialty that no one else has ever heard of. Before you know it, you’re a party of one.
That’s not what academia—or undergrad, for that matter—is about. At a university like this, it’s not just the professors that care. It’s the students. While the late night Perkins hours and the endless deadlines sometimes make it seem like we’re just in it for the A, I know that’s not true. I have to believe that what most of us want is to learn something new. At least, I really want to believe that.
So prove me right. Go to your classes, first of all, and enjoy them! Do the assignments because they’re actually fun, not just because you have to. Do some self-guided research. Maybe you’ll make an unexpected discovery—my new mission is to disprove the authenticity of a Vermeer I saw in a stately home outside of London. (Don’t worry, I do realize I’m the epitome of cool.)
But, most importantly, when your friends ask you how you’re doing or what you’re working on or what classes you’re taking, don’t just shrug them off. One of the most puzzling things about Duke students is our unwillingness to discuss what we actually do with all our time. Maybe I don’t know anything about Organic Chemistry other than when someone says they have an Orgo final I should respond with “OH MY GOD, how will you survive?” but if someone actually decided to talk about what they were learning, maybe I could respond with a more educated answer.
I think we assume that we only care about the things we have to, but, as students of the world, that’s not true. We care about knowledge and we crave learning. So don’t close yourself off to it, but embrace it.
And, back to that adage, you might actually learn something new…outside of your classes.