The sentimental senior column

My closest childhood friend-since the second grade to be exact-finally came to Duke for a visit. It only took four years of incessant bothering. I called her at least once a semester solely reminding her of the plane ticket she needed to purchase; I also emphasized during our every shopping trip that a plane ticket to Durham is certainly superior to a new handbag or a fresh pair of jeans. I quickly pointed out that the purse she wanted to buy was ugly, and, conversely, visiting me would be a once-in-a-lifetime, beautiful, memory-making experience.

So I guess you get that I had to grovel and threaten our friendship in order for her to leave her life in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for a one-weekend visit to the Gothic Wonderland. But I know the reason for this necessary effort (besides her predilection for accessories): Duke just didn't sound that great.

Being my best friend from home, she has had to deal with my once-a-semester sleep-deprived breakdown, where I call her at 5 a.m., delirious from camping out in a commons room writing a 30-page paper, rambling about how there is no way I can write all these papers all the time anymore and that "I hate this school." These dreaded early-morning accounts of the Duke intensity, girls on treadmills, sorority drama, the social hierarchy and dammit-people who just don't share our wholesome, solid, down-to-earth Midwestern values. From these accounts she probably thought the average Duke student needed to be forcibly removed from the Perkins stacks and committed to a rehab center, celebrity-style.

Now, I definitely told her stories about how much I loved Duke, recounting tailgates, adventures abroad, Myrtle and my wonderful friends, but the frantic wake-up calls are the stories that stuck.

Consequently, this weekend she was pleasantly surprised.

As we lounged in the gardens-picturesque with couples cuddling on blankets, a family tossing a Frisbee, a group of friends engaged in a lovely game of Red Rover, and flower petals dusting the grass-she said matter-of-factly: "Rachel, you are a lucky b-."

Not only did she "ooh" and "ahh" at the campus' resemblance to Hogwarts and the beauty of the gardens in 80-degree weather, she was impressed with the people. She left our last Baldwin Scholars meeting of the year raving about how she loved the witty sense of humor in the room and how everyone there was, frankly, exciting. In all, she expected to encounter snotty rich kids and instead found that Duke students were quirky, grounded and up for anything. Of course, I attributed this to my natural knack for picking extraordinary friends. But I knew the truth: I am most definitely lucky.

Thus, after writing a year's worth of critical columns- deriding national sorority organizations and their lack of vision, emphasizing the dearth of socioeconomic diversity at Duke and calling for the end of political caucuses-I sign off with the truly sentimental.

Thank you, Duke.

Not just for bringing Stephan Jenkins to LDOC today and allowing me to relive the late 1990s.

More seriously: Thank you for transforming my life.

This means thanks for the Baldwin Scholars Program. I have the deepest respect and highest regard for every woman in our class of 18-women who have helped me discover my passion, my values, who hold me accountable (i.e. don't put up with my shit) and who encourage me to take the big risks. I would not have survived Duke without the support of such an exciting, motivating community.

Thanks for public policy-a discipline that has helped me combine my political activism with practical tools for change. After four years in the Sanford Building, my professors and work-study bosses are now my greatest mentors and friends. The Sanford Institute is dynamic, churning out graduates with a profound, life-long commitment to civic engagement.

And most importantly, this is a thanks to my fellow Duke students and my best friends here, who with their intelligence, zeal, drive and quest for the next journey have inspired me to break boundaries I would have never approached. Getting my first passport so I could go on a global health Focus trip to Costa Rica and then using that passport four months later to study abroad in Spain. Taking a class with a hard but worth-it professor. Writing that honors senior thesis. Exploring a new field with an internship. Learning spontaneity-abandoning school-work for political campaigns and weekend road trips. Applying for international fellowships in countries far outside my comfort zone.

Oh, and writing a Chronicle column, which affords the perk of spending a whole final column, more than 700 words, writing a thank-you speech reminiscent of a tearful and happy Oscar win.

Yes, my best friend could not have been more right about Dukies this weekend. You are good people-so don't be strangers after we leave the bubble.

With this, I sign off.

Rachel McLaughlin is a Trinity senior. This is her final column.


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