The independent news organization of Duke University

DukeEngage Duke

I don’t want to write today. Not today because—although I love writing this column—this past week has been too much. Too much for me to process and to shoulder by myself. I can’t rant about Obama or Nobama. The Middle Eastern conflicts—who cares? Because what I have found and what I continue to find is that although these issues matter—of course they do—we don’t often pause to consider the seething underbelly of our own backyard. So infrequently do we tend to our own well-being. And more than we ever care to realize is at stake.

Duke sucks sometimes. No one says it quite like this, but everyone feels some shade of suckage. It hangs there. A staple of whispers among close friends or a quasi-lighted-hearted topic murmured in passing. It’s talked about with jaded catch phrases with which we are all too familiar. We’re told we “work hard, play hard.” That we have this expectation of “effortless perfection.” And that it’s unhealthy and even counterproductive.

And in my time here I have seen alarmingly few strides toward real detox. It’s as if we, the students, have been collectively in denial of the true danger of the Duke mentality. We think “working too hard” and “caring too much” are justified by their outcomes. As though hyper success in all areas equates to balance, we are kidding ourselves that overachieving is best.

Never would I have guessed that now a junior, I can only say that I am happy in spite of Duke. That, whenever a bright-eyed P-frosh approaches me to ask about the culture here I don’t know what to say. Should I say that my faith that things happen as they should has sometimes been shaken by this intoxicating Gothic wonderland? Shaken and shattered, especially these past two weeks.

There have been two people in my life whom I have always believed have had it together, and each has come to me, heart in hand, leaving me overwhelmed over just how much of a fool I have been. Just how mind-bending the all-angled pressure of campus life can be. Just how compromising Dukiedom has been for a person’s well-being. These stories of pain and self-doubt are not mine to tell, but they are mine to stand up for.

My ears bleed from story after story of pre-med advisors telling us we can’t. That we may not be good enough. That med school is competitive and that we fall short. I’m nauseated that a B minus is the average set in a sea of valedictorians. “Average” in the company of greats is no small feat.

Scan through the past hundred-odd editions of The Chronicle and you’ll see a common thread stick out again and again: “Do more, Duke administration. Do more.” But I think it’s our turn. Even Elmo or Big Brother Brodhead can’t save us now.

A better Duke starts with you and me. It can only be had with a personal pledge to disentangle our two loves: our love of success and our love of self. A pledge that during our four short years here we will learn and accept all that we are and, perhaps more importantly, all that we are not.

It starts with lifting our heads on the plaza to smile at a stranger. It means understanding that we never ever really know what someone might be going through. It means renewing our community, cutting back on our collective dysfunctional mentality and demanding better. I want a commitment to kindness. I want a DukeEngage Duke.

A kinder Duke is a better Duke. This I know.

For us upperclassmen, it means doing these things not only for ourselves, but also as a cue to the younger Dukies.

I want a Duke that I’d be proud to send my children to. One where I wouldn’t worry that my daughter would leave a more troubled woman than when she came. One where my son would be encouraged to value becoming a good man over a great one. One where advisors would be, without exception, a positive force in students’ lives. One where heads would be lifted and failure would never be final.

I long for less endgame and more community, less dysfunction and more kindness. As much as we are the future, we deserve this moment. We deserve better, so let’s own it.

To be fair, Duke has given me so much. The challenges it has presented, the people it has surrounded me with have clarified who I am and who it is I’d like to become. I have found love at Duke. Beautiful, silly, two-year, best-friend love. I’ve met incredible people who inspire me, and I have found the courage to follow my true passions. I feel so fortunate that I have found belonging and happiness here.

A kinder Duke is a better Duke. This I know.

Gracie Willert is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Friday.


Share and discuss “DukeEngage Duke” on social media.