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To the Class of 2009

There was a time when gasoline was cheaper than bottled water, when friends were neither “poked” nor “confirmed,” and when the only bell that mattered was the Victory Bell on the football field. As I start my junior year at Duke, I can’t help but think back to the time when I, like the Class of 2009, was “freshmeat.”

Fifteen pounds ago, I sat on the front row of my first Math 103 class at 9:10 a.m., after having eaten part of my well-balanced breakfast at the Marketplace. The night before I had done my homework, reviewed the day’s lesson and truly believed I was capable of multi-variable calculus. In fact, I initially planned on majoring in math because, well, Mr.’s SAT, SAT II, AP and ACT all told me that math was my forte.

Little did I know that my first midterm grade in October would totally burst my math-esteem bubble into little pieces, the remnants of which probably still remain somewhere in Lily Library. Other strange occurrences began too. All of the sudden, waking up for class seemed impossible (and was impossible on Fridays), despite spending 12 years prior to Duke waking up for 8 a.m. classes. Breakfast also disappeared from my daily routine all together, in exchange for an extra 20 minutes of sleep. And my TI-89 and I started fighting.

Ladies and gentleman of the Class of 2009, let this be a lesson. I had to botch my well-devised goal of being a crazy mathematician within my first semester at Duke and spend a good year rethinking my life plan that I thought I had figured out in high school, all to the fault of Math 103. So don’t ever take the class if you want to save some part of your sanity.

Just kidding. Sort of.

But what does happen to many Dukies early on in their college career is the realization that their original goals ends up disappearing as fast as their endless high school accomplishments. Premeds become English majors, Pratt students see daylight and even Canadian Studies grabs your interest. Before you know it, “math” students start writing for The Chronicle.

It’s okay. It’s expected. It’s inevitable.

If you told me during my Math 103 crisis that I would end up pursuing a Secondary School Teaching License through the Program of Education, freshman Miho would have probably laughed at your face. (I apologize, really. She didn’t know any better.) If you also told me that I would and end up contributing to The Chronicle as a regular columnist, freshman Miho would have probably made some self-demeaning joke like, “But my parents don’t speak English, so my English, no good either!”

What I love about Duke though is the number of directions you can and will go with your education. Not only is the Duke of two years ago significantly different from the Duke of today, but even you are unlike who you will become two years from now. I’m not just talking about the reappearance of kindergarten naps and a newfound appreciation for free T-shirts either. Seriously, you might not end up being the doctor, engineer or “insert any six-figure salary career here” that you’ve always envisioned. Hopefully, such decisions stemmed from taking a class or joining an organization that deeply influenced you and made you reconsider where you want to be five to 10 years from now. Take a service-learning course. Learn a language that intrigues you. Drop the chemistry lab if you need to. Forget what your parents tell you to do. Study abroad. Join an organization, even if you have no related background or experience but have a genuine interest.

Don’t suppose you know your major by now because if you do, you’re already heading in the wrong direction. And once you do declare your major, don’t assume that the silly title serves as your roadmap after Duke. While economics is the most popular major in Trinity College, the number one employer for last year’s graduation class was Teach for America, not an investment bank.

You are here to define Duke, not to let Duke define you. Dream big.

Miho Kubagawa is a Trinity junior. Her column appears every other Wednesday.

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