The independent news organization of Duke University

Work hard, play hard?

One of the most pervasive clichés regarding this institution is the “work hard, play hard” stereotype. This phrase has attracted many high school seniors to Duke who desire a balance between academics and leisurely pursuits in college. Although the theory behind this idea has merit, it seems to be but a pipe dream, difficult to implement according to its spirit. Whether or not we were intellectual prior to college, we applied to Duke with the aspiration to cultivate our intellect. Somewhere between deciding to matriculate and attending freshman orientation, we make the decision, consciously or unconsciously, to realign our priorities. We seem to reinvent ourselves, projecting ourselves as fun-loving students first and intellectual students second, rather than valuing these two aspects of our collegiate career equally. This is in response to the image of the Duke student the administration promotes to us—although the University values intellectualism, it mistakenly believes that we have already internalized this principle and thus fails to emphasize the intellectual component at this institution; furthermore, it fails to demonstrate how to synthesize working hard with playing hard. Thus, neither do we view intellectualism as a daily part of the Duke experience, nor do we see in practice what “work hard, play hard” implicitly embodies—the love for working hard and playing hard. Without understanding the passion with which we need to embrace both of these ideals, we find it difficult to adopt these values simultaneously; thus, we shift our priorities to reflect the prevailing ideals.

Although the institution itself seems not to recognize, or intervene against, the self-perpetuating interpretation of “work hard, play hard,” my criticism is not wholly targeted at the University. Duke does offer the opportunity for intellectual development for those students who uphold this value, but, ultimately, the University places the responsibility of our education in our hands. While this rationale may be sound, the burden it places on students has unintended consequences, given the environment the University allows to propagate. Despite our wish to be considered intelligent and accomplished, few of us embrace the connotation that intellectual achievement would cast upon us. Instead, we strive to exhibit conformity of thought.

To characterize Duke as anti-intellectual would be to paint an inaccurate portrait. We are entirely capable of engaging in stimulating conversations with our professors and our peers; many of us simply choose not to actively pursue these experiences. The lack of our ability to embrace intellectualism reflects a greater problem endemic in the student body—we lack the ability to recognize our self-worth. On the surface, this link seems tenuous; however, this characteristic drives how we present ourselves and our values to others. Despite the commonality inherent in our motivation to attend Duke, we forget the importance of intellectualism in our maturation process. Rather, our conscious decision to conceal our intellectual potential leads us to cast a role for ourselves. By relinquishing our love for learning, we implicitly surrender our motivation for attending this institution. Furthermore, by imputing the status of a stepping-stone to the purpose of attending university, such a conception thus subverts its intellectual mission.

Ultimately, the degree to which we desire intellectual stimulation is a personal decision, but this desire, whether dormant or active, exists in the core of each Duke student. It is the path of least resistance to buy into the notion that “work hard, play hard,” in its intended spirit, cannot be accomplished. Over the past four years, my interactions with my peers and professors have revealed that an active desire for knowledge and understanding can be sustained, thus belying the above portrait as the only Duke experience possible. Yet too great a burden is placed on the student to pursue alone what is inherently the University’s mission to foster. Until the University recognizes the repercussions of the misinterpretation of the motto and rebalances our love for working hard and playing hard, as a student body, we will continue to hide our intellectual potential, thus stunting its growth.

Malavika Prabhu is a Trinity senior and former Health & Science Editor for The Chronicle. In spite of these realizations, and perhaps because of them, the past four years have been incredibly fulfilling as a result of her intellectual experiences and her friendships. In particular, she would like to thank JCF, CLK, HAJ, SAI, ELN, MLC, for being true friends and hopefully lifelong friends; EJT, for encouraging her love for learning; CAY, AJG, KSR, MVB, for The Chronicle; and MEP, for being her best friend.


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