“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”
This is about the point when A Tale of Two Cities took a sharp turn downhill, and I decided it was pretty much the most boring book I ever read. However, when I think about the best way to adequately sum up the last four years, these classic opening words are the only that come to mind (either that or those T-shirts that just say “College.”, but I’ll go with this). How Charles Dickens managed to make 1775 France and the college experience sound so much alike in his description, especially when he makes everything else sound so dry, is beyond me.
In these past four years, we’ve had some of our best, and worst, times. We have experienced friendship, love, disappointment, laughter, tears, anger and a host of other emotions. Some days we were at home on vacation, eager to get back to Duke, and other days we were at Duke, this close to filling out transfer forms or going home. But most importantly, we’ve all experienced growth, and the person who arrived here on East Campus freshman year is not the same one who will be sitting in Wallace Wade on May 15.
College is an intellectually stimulating environment where people will stay up until 5 a.m. having an obscure philosophical discussion or go to a guest lecture on a topic of interest. It’s also a place where these same people will do extremely foolish things like eat pizza as a staple food or drink themselves into oblivion. I don’t even know the amount of times I’ve been greeted with the argument, “It’s college,” as an excuse to do something outrageous.
Some of us are leaving here with everything planned out before us—a top-ten school, a fellowship, a job—feeling a sense of security from the set path we’ve chosen. Others are leaving here with “nothing” set before them, choosing to make their own path or explore their options first. Regardless of where we are going, or how we are getting there, I hope that none of us leaves here with a sense that we know all the answers, because if any of us feels like that, I’m pretty sure our education has failed.
Think about it; if there were a test we had to take to graduate college, containing all the facts we should know after a four-year education at Duke University, what would be on it? I have no idea. In fact, I’d probably fail. The most important things I’ve learned here at Duke are not facts, but ways of knowing, ways of finding out. I have not learned answers, but I have learned how to ask the questions, and how to appreciate the questions themselves. And to this day, I have found that the more you learn, the less you should know for sure.
I can’t end my last column without some thank you’s. Thanks to my family, who gives me ideas for columns and gives me constant love and support. Thanks to my friends who have kept me sane here at Duke, and sometimes drove me crazy, too. From banging on my door when I’ve overslept, to giving me rides to class, to pulling all-nighters with me, to lending me points when I’m starving, to supporting me in all my activities, you guys have been there in countless ways and I’m grateful for it. I’m also proud to be a member of the best class here at Duke—’05!!!! You guys are amazing; we’re almost done, and we’ve definitely left an irreplaceable mark.
To everyone who takes the time to read my bi-weekly “radical” rants, whether you hated them or loved them, thanks. You’re e-mails, postings or comments on the quad have only fueled my passion for writing and sharing my voice.
And finally for all those I’ll be leaving behind, I’ll share with you some of the small discoveries I’ve made here at Duke, that I wish someone would have shared with me. Use them wisely.
Duke sucks really bad when it comes to advising freshmen and sophomores. Don’t listen to the random person they assign you! (Duke should really revamp this and have a student academic advising system for underclassmen. Upperclassmen know way more about the ins and outs of classes and departments at Duke, and hindsight is 20/20 so they can give great advice.)
You can get parking tickets at Duke even if you don’t have a car or a license—$500 worth of them—and Duke will not accept these two minor facts as explanation of why it is virtually impossible for you to have parked illegally.
You never know which side a door opens at Duke. There is no logic to it, so don’t try and figure it out—plan on looking stupid multiple times.
Cultural anthropology and literature are two of Duke’s best kept secrets and should be publicized more to freshman. I had no idea what Culanth was when I got here, and I definitely did not know the difference between literature and English; I only wish I would have discovered these earlier.
Get a radio show at WXDU!
Interlibrary loan is amazing—use it!
Writing a senior thesis is a painful, painful experience. The kind of pain that has you in Perkins slaving away while other seniors are at fun-sounding events like “pub crawl” or “senior night.” You have been warned. (No seriously, it has its rewards too; just make sure you realize what you’re getting into.)
Graduation is pretty pointless—and by graduation, I’m referring to the big one, in the hot sun outside, where everyone text messages their friends or plays games on their cell phones. But perhaps it won’t be a complete waste of time… maybe I can take off my gown and get a good tan while I’m there.
Amelia Herbert is a Trinity senior. Her column usually appears every other Thursday.
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