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After a year at Duke, quitting the A-Team

It’s Sunday, and my heels are sinking like golf tees into a front lawn not yet fried by the summer heat. In my left hand I am holding a cup of lawn-party primordial soup—ice cubes, lemon slices and San Pellegrino are mixing at will. In my right hand is the tanned elbow of a dear friend, fading fast from both a massive hangover and the sweltering June humidity. And directly in front of me are scattered clumps of chatty people, standing under blue and white balloons at this Washington-area send-off picnic for Duke’s Class of 2009. My friend and I, jaded and world-weary rising sophomores that we are, are charged with answering questions and generally discussing the University with parents and p-frosh alike. Sort of funny, the more I thought about it—especially considering that only one short year before we’d been asking the questions, not answering them.

As is ever the case, being somewhat removed from the situation—i.e., not being a new freshman myself—allowed me to make a few new observations about the assembled crowd. My friend moves herself to the barbeque buffet table, using a linen-covered corner to prop herself up while simultaneously forking her coleslaw mouthwards. Her own high heels, as vastly inappropriate for an outdoor picnic as mine are, are now removed. “God, I feel awful,” she says, disrupting the deferential silence and Dean Sue’s speech. “Well, you look cute, and that’s all that matters,” I joke in an Elle Woods voice. We begin our back-and-forth teasing, catching up and joking about the year’s memories. Joking, that is, until a balding man in cargo shorts turns around to glare at us. Apparently our loudly whispered story—I recall it having something to do with the Cookout drive-up line and a bunch of sketchy guys-—was not appreciated during this important moment in Baldie, Jr.’s life. We silence ourselves with pulled pork.

The thing is, I totally understand. I wouldn't have been thrilled if two loud-mouthed, impractically dressed girls yakked their way through my first I’m-A-Real-Duke-Student event. The same hush that was now settled over the Class of 2009 and its bill-footers had definitely been present the year before—it was nice, I recall. I remember it being much more respectful than the assembly “silences” I’d experienced during high school. Even when our school district superintendent came to speak to the senior class (she was sobbing through an apology for her DUI charge a week before—um, yeah), someone was still singing Usher’s “Yeah” aloud in the back row.

But I very clearly digress; the glories of a public school education are for another column. I mention the ’09 sendoff because it made me realize that I’ve really changed in a year. The slightly sad part is that said changes may not all be good. I’m certainly less athletic than I was a year ago (unfortunately, I look it). I’m not as involved in community service, less apt to return family members’ phone calls, about six times messier and four times more likely to be late. Now here I am, blabbing about Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise while Dean Sue discusses this year’s summer reading on Afghan refugees. Sad, because I had it all under control in high school. I’m not sure when I quit the A-Team and joined the Has-Beens.

So I found myself looking at the fresh faces turned to Dean Sue in rapt attention. These are kids who don’t yet have their monologues on effortless perfection memorized, who think Black Tenting sounds like a great idea, and who will never know what the BC walkway used to look like. They’re part of Duke’s biggest class yet and will be the first class to live in the Bell Tower.

But they’re also still a group of devoted, successful, talented high school seniors—kids who are still coasting on the crest of the success wave, making positive contributions to their community and finally accepting the elusive reward. I only hope that they remain as diligent and excellent in their pursuits as they age—that they keep giving even in the face of inevitable college lethargy. It’s a long fall from the pedestal, and attempting to climb back is harder than staying up there. At least for me, see, because since I’ve stopped rowing I’ve lost all my upper body strength…

Sarah Ball is a Trinity sophomore and editorial page managing editor of The Chronicle.

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