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The things we forgot

Christian Laettner scored 2,460 points in his Duke career. Almost everyone who has ever attended this University remembers two of them, a pair of tallies which lifted the Blue Devils over Kentucky in what some commentators have called the greatest college basketball game ever played. But there were 2,458 others, and I mean no offense to Laettner when I say that most of those were pretty ordinary. There were free throws in blowout games, wide-open jumpshots, breakaway layups—shots he’d practiced tens of thousands of times and would make 99 times out of 100. Laettner himself has likely forgotten most of them. Certainly even his most ardent fans and detractors have.

This is true in every sport. The vast majority of plays aren’t notable. Three-yard runs up the middle on second down. Routine grounders to third. A drive, a chip and a putt on a par three. Whether as participants or spectators, we forget about them not long after they happened. At the end, what you’re left with, though, is a career, a sum total of all those ordinary forgotten things, with a little bit of extraordinary mixed in, both good and bad.

And while it makes for good conversation, it strikes me as incomplete that the words we hear so often as we come to the close of our Duke careers are “memory” and “remember.” We are writing the story of our Duke careers with these final conversations, and history is often written as if lives are made and lost in those singular gleaming moments when everything is perfect or disastrous, in the stories we will tell for as long as we have voices to tell them.

But to say that is to ignore the everyday achievement, the middle ground, the days when magic didn’t happen. The mornings it rained, the nights you were bored, the assignments you got done without fanfare, the games that didn’t go down in record books. All those times someone asked how you were doing and you said “fine” or “pretty good” simply because there wasn’t a story that needed to be told.

It’s not exactly enthralling to think back on all the filler that occupied the gaps between the best of times and the worst of times, but what if someone counted all those little triumphs the way they counted Laettner’s layups? What if there was a way to keep track of the times you had dinner with a friend who just needed someone to talk to? What if grades actually reflected the fleeting satisfaction of banging out a decent but unspectacular paper in the wee hours during those “Duke weeks” when the whole academic and extracurricular world seemed to be crashing down around you? What if every freighted teardrop and every peal of laughter went down in a massive scorebook? How different would our stories be then?

Those seemingly mundane hours not only constituted the bulk of our time while we were here, but also the majority of our growth, as we changed one grain of sand at a time, usually without even realizing it until it was over. How do we appreciate what we don’t even remember?

There’s a way, I think, and it lies not in documenting every last accomplishment and disappointment of a career, but in celebrating the people who accompanied you along your road.

One of the most poignant moments I ever experienced in four years of reporting for The Chronicle came not as Duke celebrated a victory, but as head men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski reflected after his team’s defeat in the 2012 ACC Tournament semifinals at the hands of Florida State. It was a truly rare occasion when you could actually hear the weariness in his voice after a long and turbulent season, and after an initial outburst of frustration with a reporter who asked him to assess the Seminoles’ chances against North Carolina in the tournament final, he made a sincere request that seemed so incongruous for a figure who exists for most as a legend rather than a man susceptible to fatigue: “[I want to] take my dog for a walk,” he said. “I haven’t seen Blue for about five days, and I think that hurt me today.”

All the achievements and memories of past greatness—and it’s not exactly a secret that Krzyzewski has plenty of those—weren’t going to get him through an afternoon that had suddenly turned from a shot at the record books into a merely average Sunday. It was a golden retriever named Blue, and for all of us, there have been friends and enemies alike who moved us through all those minutes we no longer remember. We can no longer recall the individual brush strokes that they spurred us to paint in those lost hours, but the awareness—however hazy and indescribable­­—of their helping hands is indelible.

And as you were for me, so someone else was for you, and in that endless chain of momentary exasperations and random kindnesses, we are—all of us—forever joined, as the Class of 2013, or better yet, as Duke University. So I’ll never be able to add up the seconds I spent doing what the history books would call “nothing” or go back and watch every swish and every brick like so much game tape. But if instead I get to spend my moments of quiet reflection and boisterous nostalgia seeing the faces of those in this community who cared for me, battled with me, looked me square in the eye when I needed it, or high-fived me when I deserved it... then who needs to remember it all?


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