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Instructions

It begins with saying goodbye. Goodbye to your weird artsy high school and to your weird artsy high school friends. Goodbye to the lanky, sarcastic boy who was the first to ever pay attention to you, to the way that sunsets look sprawled out against the Rocky Mountains, to your parents’ joint custody and to your fat black dog. This is goodbye (although you don’t know this yet) to the days when words like “Shooters” and “boat shoes” meant nothing to you. Nothing at all.

And then, once you’re at the other end of the country, 2000 miles from everything that’s comfortable, greet every person you make eye contact with. Ask them all the same questions. What’s your name? Where are you from? What dorm are you living in? (Alspaugh? Yeah, cool, I love Alspaugh.) Realize quickly that small talk isn’t your forte, nor is feigning interest in people you’ve never met before. Tell no one about this embarrassing personality defect.

Start classes. Do not go to office hours because you know you are not smart enough to talk to your professors alone. Cry after receiving a C+ on a paper. When your aunt dies the day before Easter your freshman year, you will have much bigger things to cry about, but at this moment a sloppily arranged essay on Hobbes seems like the worst possible fate. Do not realize that this is an incredible gift.

Go to an informational meeting for the student newspaper. Admire the poised upperclassmen who run it, people who seem impossibly further along in their lives than you. When reporting your first story, write out a script for what you will say when you call your sources. Hello, this is Ryan Brown. I’m calling from the Duke Chronicle. When they pick up the phone, recite it verbatim from the paper in front of you.

Throw up on the steps of a C-1 after your first and only Tailgate, a humiliation so deep and unsettling that you will be afraid for years even to joke about it. Try to remember how lucky you are to be who you are. Oh, and never go to Tailgate again.

Take classes in creative writing, African history, French, Spanish, feminist theory, Dante and the biology of AIDS. Resolve never to take a math class (this will only work until senior year, when you will discover they’re called “graduation requirements” and not “graduation recommendations” for a reason). Discover that you can major in books, stories and nostalgia—around here they just call it history. At about the same time, decide professors aren’t as scary as you once thought they were, but every bit as intelligent and about 50 times as weird. With this in mind, talk to them as much as possible.

Watch as your friends stop eating, drop premed, come out, pledge, tent and black out. Watch them write novels, fall in love, win awards, land interesting jobs, make art and start eating again. Say you’ll never compromise anything for a man and believe it right up until the moment you wake up one morning with your arm hooked around the waist of a boy you’re in love with. Realize that principles are a lot easier to have than to live by.

Drink beer—in frat sections, in East Campus dorms, in rural Appalachia, in Johannesburg, in Dakar, in Budapest. But this is important: Do not drink enough to lose your balance, just enough to see the world without its sharp edges, flushed and bright.

Write on a course evaluation, “this professor was incredibly smart … and incredibly attractive.” Lose your nerve. Cross it out. Wonder what it would be like to be the type of girl who does that. Wish you were her.

Over the next four years, make a list of the things college has taught you that you are no good at: dating, political philosophy, avoiding the passive voice, drinking in the morning. It will likely be impossible to steer clear of these things in the future, but it is good to remember what you have learned from your roughly $250,000 education.

As you are doing and thinking all of these things, 100 days will pass, then 1,000. Suddenly you will be done with your T-Reqs, done with your classes, done (improbably) with your thesis. You’ll realize that you’re on the edge of saying goodbye all over again, that in the last four years it hasn’t gotten any easier and that it probably never will. But there are only instructions for life in retrospect. So for now there’s only one thing you can do: Let it go.

Ryan Brown is a Trinity senior. She is an associate editor for Towerview magazine, editorial columnist and former staff writer. She would like to thank the entire staff of The Chronicle for a great four years and for the many eccentricities they have put up with in that time, including allowing her to write her final column in the second person.

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