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My favorite mistake

Most who know me will be able to tell you—I am a sucker for senior columns. Every April, my sentimental heart beats wildly reading last-minute secrets and eleventh-hour pearls of wisdom. In the interest of preserving convention, I’m sticking to the clichés. These are my confessions.

My four years here were the product of a glitch in the admissions formula. Someone in Dean Guttentag’s perfectly sculpted Class of Dimes decided to opt for Harvard or Stanford instead, and Duke got saddled with me—a straight-laced girl from Texas, who had never spent more than a week away from home. I was a second-string draft pick. A poor man’s Blue Devil.

But that was OK. I had never stepped foot on campus or, in fact, on Carolina soil, but from the glossy brochures I imagined Duke as a place where brilliance seeped from the Gothic stones, there for the absorbing. I would paint my face blue and become a part of this happy Duke family.

Of course, coming here was more like falling down the rabbit hole. It’s a bizarre place, jarring to the senses—so much wealth and privilege pooled in the middle of a vibrant Southern city brimming with urban cool, all underneath that gorgeous Carolina sky.

The truth is, I’m not sure if Guttentag should have taken a gamble on me, because I’ve messed this up horribly. My Duke career has been marked by stumbles and missteps. Nothing has gone quite according to plan.

For starters, I spent entirely too much time in this damn office and probably too little tending to my classes, my grades and my social life. I can mark the ebb and flow of each year through The Chronicle—stories, deadlines, corrections, promotions, editor elections. Reporting and a buzzing newsroom were an antidote to my natural shyness and a crippling sort of loneliness. An eclectic cast of editors—by far, the most interesting, admirable and profane people that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing—told me to ask the uncomfortable questions, to be fearless. I saw many a 3 a.m. in 301 Flowers, but in the morning, there were always typos to be attended to, more questions to be asked, angles left unexplored, another day’s paper to be put out.

I came to a school with a $40,000 price tag because I didn’t want to be an idiot and guess what? I’m graduating only less of an idiot in that I know how much I don’t know.

I met my freshman year roommate on move-in day—the definition of a Jewish American Princess from Long Island, rocking Coach flip-flops and a Lacoste polo in the smothering Durham heat, and thought to myself, “Oh, boy.” Two dorm rooms and two apartments later, I wince at the thought of having her any farther away than the next bedroom.

I loved imperfectly too—sometimes too much, sometimes too little and many times, too late. I had a ridiculous puppy crush on my first editor (oh please, all of you already knew), and I’m leaving entirely enamored and so proud of the current and incoming chiefs.

And now for those pearls of wisdom. Here they are: I wish you a college experience as messy and tattered at the seams as mine. I hope you get to do things like skip class to go chase presidential candidates across North Carolina. I hope you spend Friday nights drinking $4 champagne and giggling about the oddities of Duke life until the wee hours of the morning with people you love, when you should be doing work. I hope you embrace the beauty of being a 20-something, young and naive and allowed your share of blunders.

For my Duke ladies specifically, I hope you don’t let this place break you. Instead, I hope you unapologetically refuse to play by the rules of the game and I hope you don’t let anyone douse water on your outrage at the things about this institution that should rightly prompt your ire.

Last weekend, I was given an award at our annual newspaper formal, named in honor of a former Chronicle editor tragically taken by cancer before his tenure was up. Afterwards, a sea of people enveloped me in hugs. The faces blended together eventually, and all I could feel were the arms of strangers around me. And really all this time, it has been the arms of strangers—the makeshift family that we make at the University—that have held me, buoyed me up, pieced me together when I was in danger of flying apart. I hope you find such strong arms and good strangers to hold you.

I’m emerging from my college experience with fault lines where I’ve been damaged and bruised—knowing they have made me a more dynamic, interesting, whole person. Mostly, I’m just grateful to have gone through it.

Duke, you are and always will be my favorite mistake.

Naureen Khan is a Trinity senior. She is a senior editor and former Local and National Editor of The Chronicle. She wants to thank DG, Shreya, Jia, Shuch, rAc, and Euge for being such incredible sources of inspiration, and Doe-eyes, EZ, Hon, Rupp, Ztrace, RB and the rest of the babies for putting up with her all this time.

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