To the freshmen

In the middle of the dreaded Logic Games section of my LSAT two weeks ago, while frantically darkening in bubbles and trying to decide whether A can sit next to B or C or if it in fact has to sit next to D, I had an adrenaline-fueled realization: I’m a rising senior.

It’s hard to believe, but just four years before that point I was sitting in the very same room taking my SAT, and only a year after that I was spending the summer months looking forward to my freshman year at Duke. During those months, I formed—in meticulous detail—a vision of how my Duke experience would play out.

This picture was naïve and probably vain. In it I earned a 4.0 every semester, made countless friends, started stimulating debates in my political science classes and had a girlfriend who was hotter than the sun. Needless to say, much of this didn’t happen (especially the last part).

But what did happen over the last three years has been much more valuable, for it has been challenging. And because it has been challenging, it has taught me a few lessons. So since this issue will be mailed out to all of Duke’s rising freshman—some of whom may already be creating an ideal picture in their minds, like I did, of Duke—I thought I’d offer up some advice.

Don’t be afraid to doubt:

Your doubts, even/especially the most painful ones, help you grow. In the same way that a bruise indicates physical pain, your doubts reveal mental pain. Without them you won’t be able to discover who you truly are. So if you are having doubts about your major or a future career path, do not suppress these doubts. Acknowledge them, hold on to them and follow them where they lead you.

Don’t form a set plan:

Though it is tempting to plan out an ideal Duke experience like I did, don’t do it. It’s impossible. There are simply too many variables. You won’t even be aware of 99 percent of these variables until you set foot on campus. Even when your plan doesn’t end up changing, exploring unexpected paths can be incredibly valuable. When I first arrived at Duke I was absolutely certain I would major in political science and go to law school, yet within months my doubts gnawed at me. What if I hated political science? Worse, what if I hated law? After trying out psychology, classical civilizations, English and evolutionary anthropology, I was able to come back to political science and law with a clearer understanding of myself and my goals.

Be an individual:

When you arrive at Duke, it will be tempting to do what everyone else is doing because you want to be accepted. But resist this temptation. Don’t rush into greek life or extracurriculars simply because others are doing it or because you are afraid you will be left behind if you don’t. College has a lot to offer. Hang out with Greeks, hipsters, activists, gamers, aspiring journalists and so on, but don’t box yourself in and become a label—unless, of course, that is who you want to be.

Challenge yourself:

I know plenty of people who log onto Rate My Professors and select the easiest courses they can before registering for classes. This is a waste of your time and your money. Challenge yourself and learn something, for Pete’s sake. If you love politics but are frightened of math, take a math class; this applies to the inverse, as well. Your weaknesses will remain weaknesses unless you make an effort to overcome them.

Drop your biases:

Often, you learn the most from people whom you disagree with. I’m a liberal, but I hate discussing politics with my kind. It’s no fun to discuss something with someone you agree with. Take advantage of the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that Duke has to offer. Too many people limit their perspective by only spending time with those who share their own political ideology or religion or melanin level. This not only goes against what Duke is trying to do by increasing diversity; it defeats the purpose entirely.

Chill out:

Finally, don’t rush to define your Duke experience. This is not an artificial process; it happens naturally and gradually. So chill out—hang out with some friends and whenever you are stressing out about an essay or a final exam or whatever, just remember that there are plenty of people who would love the opportunity to even study at Duke.

Yes, I know. A lot of this advice sounds cliché. Many of my peers will disagree with me, and many of them have had incredible experiences at Duke by following a different path. But they all followed a path that was, by necessity, singular. In the end, only you can define yourself. The standards of value you measure yourself by should not necessarily come from without. Once I recognized this, my Duke experience became way better.

Mike Shammas is a Trinity senior.


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