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Settling in to the Bull City

According to the exit survey of the Class of 2009, the Raleigh-Durham area is the third most likely place for alumni to end up, behind only New York and Washington, D.C.
According to the exit survey of the Class of 2009, the Raleigh-Durham area is the third most likely place for alumni to end up, behind only New York and Washington, D.C.

For most Duke students, their stay in Durham has a four-year time limit. Senior year ends and the boys and girls in gowns blow Durham a big fat goodbye kiss before they hit the road. The Lucky Strike smokestack tower recedes in the rearview mirror, and they don’t look back. The migration begins in the weeks after the words of the commencement speaker stop echoing in the heads of the cap-wearers: the graduated class packs its futons into rented U-Hauls and leaves behind its Durham digs, moving on to jobs in trendy hubs of culture and commerce. The farther these fresh alums get from the Bull City, the more expansive the Duke Diaspora becomes.

But what about those who stay? The Raleigh-Durham area is the third most likely place for alumni to end up, behind only New York and Washington, D.C., according to an exit survey of the Class of 2009.

Chris O’Neill, Trinity ’95, who is the assistant director of regional programs for the Duke Alumni Association and the coordinator of the Duke Club of the Triangle, noted that in the past 10 years he’s seen an uptick in the number of Duke graduates who stick around post-graduation.

“As Durham grows and develops it’s been a more attractive place to live,” he said. “The economy has played into that—it’s a reasonable place to live.”

With the economy still freezing students out of the job market, more people are enrolling in graduate school to help their chances in landing the perfect gig, O’Neill said. And if you’re going to pay for graduate school instead of actually making money, he added, you’ll need to live in a city that won’t bleed you of your money.

Other students have found positions as research assistants for Duke professors, jobs in the admissions office or placement elsewhere within the Duke sphere, according to the Class of 2010 exit survey that was compiled by the Duke Alumni Association. Others who responded to the exit poll—which consists of information from 433 members of the class of 2010—are sticking around to study for the MCAT or other entrance exams, with the intent of leaving Durham after they take the test. In the survey, nearly 50 people said they intended to stay in Durham, Raleigh or Chapel Hill.

Andrew Kindman, Trinity ’10, will be entering the Master’s Program in Economics when the summer ends, and will stay in Durham until he completes the degree in 2013.

“It was sort of an accident,” he said. “It was a terrific opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. I’m excited to be around for a couple years and enjoy the city.”

A former director of the Duke Coffeehouse, Kindman plans on keeping up with Durham’s vibrant music scene, though to a “little less of an extent”—he’ll be saddled with a decidedly more substantial workload as a graduate student.

Kindman attended high school at Durham Academy—just down the road from West Campus—so he has had years to acclimate himself to the Durham lifestyle. And he is quick to point out the vast changes that have greeted the city since he matriculated at Duke.

“The Durham that I grew up in is very different from the Durham you see today,” he said. “It’s like an entirely different city. The city’s changing so fast it’s hard to get sick of anything.”

The change Kindman spoke of began with the development of Brightleaf Square in the 1980s and the construction of a new ballpark for the city’s cherished Durham Bulls, but has picked up the tempo in the last few years. Kindman mentioned that as freshmen, the members of the Class of 2010 would not have been likely to head to downtown Durham on a Saturday night, but now that area is a destination. The last few years have seen pockets of new bars and restaurants sprout up all over town, and the skyline is now accentuated by the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Word is spreading to the enclaves up north about Durham’s opportunities for the young and cash-strapped. In a study published last May in The Daily Beast, Richard Florida—Director of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and, as The Daily Beast put it, an “urban guru”—ranked Durham fourth on his list of “Best Cities For College Grads,” calling it a “likely spot for young go-getters.” In 2008, Forbes ranked Raleigh-Durham eighth on its list of best cities for recent graduates, and In 2009 placed it fourth in terms of job opportunities.

For those with enough cash to break up the Ramen-only diet every now and then, Durham has one of the most dynamic restaurant scenes in the South. Bon Appetite magazine famously called the Durham-Chapel Hill nexus “America’s Foodiest Small Town” in October 2008, lauding the many chefs’ fierce devotion to local and organic farms. The article praised dishes that don’t empty your wallet and are served just around the corner: the pimiento cheese sandwich at Parker and Otis; tacos from the venerable Taqueria La Vaquita; rosemary ice pops from LocoPops.

An article in The New York Times this past April echoed the sentiment. The article—“Durham, a Tobacco Town, Turns to Local Food”—drooled over the expert plates of Southern-tinged specialties at Watts Grocery, Piedmont and the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, all of which are walking distance from Duke’s campus.

Adrienne Brower-Lingsch, Trinity ’10, said she plans on staying in Durham for the next year as she prepares for the MCAT and applies to medical schools. After hearing from friends that they were planning on spending some time in Durham, she created the Facebook group “Graduate...maybe, leave...never!: Duke Class 2010 in Durham and Chapel Hill.” It currently has 50 members.

“I made the group because I heard from people who are staying for a year or more,” she said. “We want to expand the social circle, and I hope people from our class will continue to do stuff together.”

Brower-Lingsch also wants to peek outside the Duke bubble now that she’s graduated and discover some of the untold number of events that occur all over the Triangle every weekend.

“I’m not going to, like, cross off everywhere I went [as an undergraduate], but I want to take advantage of places,” she said. “A lot of us here are really interested in exploring the state parks—we went to the Eno river a week or so ago—and the different little festivals.”

Even when the economic woes ease up a bit, and 20-somethings discover they have more of a choice in where they can settle down, O’Neill said he still thinks Durham will pull in a large share of Duke graduates each year. The city is on the “upspring,” he said.

For O’Neill, Durham has never lost its appeal. Before he was in charge of directing the Alumni events for Duke graduates who decide to stay in the area, he was one of them. He left Durham after his senior year, only to return soon after.

“Once I came back to Durham I realized that I loved working at Duke and I loved living in Durham,” he said. “It’s a great place to work and a great place to live.”


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