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Finding your Duke, not theirs

About two weeks ago, I needed to get the heck out of Dodge, or Durham rather. The pressure of graduation was too great. The thought of my time at Duke slipping away was too overpowering. Rather than committing myself to the stereotypical string of Saturday night events that have inundated my college career—moving from an apartment pregame to Main Street to Shooters—I got in the car with two of my best friends and we hit the road. Our destination? Didn’t really matter. Our goal? Hold on to the moment for as long as we could.

We ventured to Saxapahaw. Yes, I said Saxapahaw—a town covering five miles of North Carolina that only about 1,000 people call home. We went for dinner and a concert, musing about the next few weeks as well as where we’d be five years after. A mere 40 minutes away from the Gothic Wonderland, Saxapahaw might as well have been on the other side of the world. Traveling down gravel roads surrounded by open pastures, we quickly realized no semblance of Duke’s pressure-driven culture would survive our trip down 15-501. Instead, this seemingly dead-end town ironically offered an enduring feeling of possibility to calm our anxious yet excited nerves.

In Saxapahaw, no one cares about the exotic career you are going off to next year or how many fraternity listservs you happen to find yourself on. There is no way to signal to this community of backyard hipsters your place in the social hierarchy by the brands you wear or the greek symbols you display on your chest. In this community, the locals value meaningful connections with real people over how many Facebook tags you can accrue over any given weekend.

It was there—as I enjoyed a gourmet meal and listened to North Carolina music against the backdrop of the country landscape—that I realized something surprising. Despite the distance my friends and I had traveled from campus, I felt closer to Duke in that moment than I had felt in months.

At some point between orientation week and our last Marketplace meal freshman year, Duke somehow convinced us all that the success of our college career rested upon how many stereotypical Duke experiences we could collect in four years. Did you dance on a truck bed at Tailgate? Did you pull an all-nighter in the stacks? Did you sleep out for a basketball game? Did you save the world this summer? These memories, which serve as graduation requirements as well as signals of social success, become a never-ending to-do list that is somehow supposed to all come together to define our college careers.

But despite all the pressure placed on these prefabricated experiences, I have derived very little meaning from any of them. I have done all of these activities countless times in my four years, but instead of reinforcing my sense of a Duke identity, I have been disappointed by the irrelevance of these events. I don’t have any profound memories of the countless nights I spent waiting in line for Shooters. My recollections of fraternity parties have all blurred together into one inconceivable haze. And my many nights stuck in the library needlessly worrying about X test or Y paper have all melted away.

What do I remember from my four years at Duke? I remember the experiences that weren’t spoon-fed to me by the University—the memories I forged for myself. I remember walking around campus for hours with my first great friend at Duke, sipping on Loop milkshakes and seeing myself in someone else for the first time in my life. I remember my time alone reporting in Durham, leaving the security of Duke to see the Bull City from a different perspective. I remember crashing a party I wasn’t invited to and falling in love with the man who makes me a better version of myself. And I remember that night in Saxapahaw, N.C., crying and laughing with the fellow Dukies who have become my family.

These moments may seem distant from the Duke we saw through the window of the C-1 on our first tour of campus, but they have come together to represent my Duke. I look back on my time in Durham and realize I spent too much time at our University worrying about what I would miss out on if I replaced a typical Duke experience with an adventure of my own. It took me too long to realize, but it turns out none of my worries ever came to fruition. Nothing will happen if you miss that one party. Overstressing about any given test or paper is pointless. And ultimately, everyone is too consumed with themselves to care at all about what you’re doing.

I urge you to start searching for your Saxapahaw moments at Duke before it is too late. And I guarantee, you won’t find them in the places where everyone else is looking.

Caroline Fairchild is a Trinity senior. She is local/national editor and former associate sports editor of The Chronicle.

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