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Lessons learned

It’s that time again: The start of yet another school year and, for some, the beginning of a college career. For me, it’s the halfway point of my time at Duke, the beginning of the end, if you will. So, I thought it fitting to assess the value of my education thus far and reflect on some of the things that I’ve only come to know over the past two years. What follows is a list of the ten most important lessons I’ve learned at Duke:

lesson no. 1: The quintessential Duke student is not the one you read about in the brochure. (S)he did not find a cure to a rare genetic disease or save eleven kids from a burning car. While impressive, most of us are a bit more human than that.

The average Duke student is good but not great; intelligent but not brilliant. (S)he is the product of ample opportunity and ambition rather than raw talent and skill. The typical Duke student is an expert at performing—at portraying him or herself in the best possible light. S(he) is not shy about taking a class because it is easy and not hesitant to write a paper out of convenience rather than conviction. And none of this is necessarily bad. Ambition often trumps innate ability; working the smartest usually provides a more tangible reward than working the hardest. The path of least resistance is really a highway crowded with Dukies, but I’m okay with that.

lesson no. 2: Kappa Alpha is not short for Kappa Alpha Psi. They are too very different organizations, to put it mildly.

lesson no. 3: A sense of inadequacy is probably the most prominent thing on campus. It’s at the heart of every discussion regarding academic performance, body image and fraternal affiliation. Why is it that so many of us feel inadequate? Because we are. But we’re supposed to be. College is about developing leadership, cultivating character and scholarship and forging an identity which represents the best version of one’s self. We need not let our sense of inadequacy get the best of us. We ought to use it to make the best of ourselves.

lesson no. 4: An American Express credit card is not only a credit card, it’s a value system. And apparently it has something to do with developing as a student, a player and a human being. Or so says the eternal wisdom of Professor Mike Krzyzewski.

lesson no. 5: Service to the community is commendable, but motivations do matter. “Drive-by” service does little, if any good to anything except our ego. Helping with gardening at the Farmer’s Market or sorting “trash” at the Scrap Exchange does nothing but provide free labor to people who don’t need it. Dedicated, long-term service that seeks to right some wrong, heal some wound or cure some injustice is the only type of service that matters.

lesson no. 6: If you believe everything written in the Chronicle then you’d be convinced that the administration is engaged in a vast conspiracy to support terrorism, suppress conservatism and defraud rich kids of their money. You’d also probably believe that the only people who write Chronicle columns are Tom Friedman wannabes, intellectual atheist snobs, femi-nazis and morbidly oversexed individuals. Or maybe I’m the only who believes that.

lesson no. 7: The Health Fee affords us the luxury of free condoms, free health advice that we already know and valuable information from our friends at Healthy Devil that guys need signed permission from a lady friend in order for their activities not to count as sexual assault. $262 well spent if you ask me.

lesson no. 8: Ambition is a virtue, but unbridled ambition is certainly a vice. It may seem impressive to be the leader of a few campus organizations, a talented speaker and even a pontificating Chronicle columnist, but people are usually a pretty good gauge of character. People know when you’re well intentioned and when you’re out for yourself. People know when your preaching about honor rings hollow and your primary concern is a Rhodes scholarship.

lesson no. 9: Apparently, improving dining at Duke consists of painting walls and installing plasma flat-screen televisions in the Marketplace. Before long we’ll probably have live music and a dance floor, but still be stuck with inedible food.

lesson no. 10: The most over-represented group at Duke is not the Jews. It’s people from New Jersey.

Anthony Collins is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Wednesday.

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