Everyone tells you to try something new in college. On move-in day freshman year, there were hundreds of cars, seemingly thousands of caffeinated upperclassmen in bright shirts and even more excited freshmen. And me? Instead of new opportunities, all I could think about was sleeping. The day before coming to Duke, I found out I had mono and instead of hookups and DFMOs at Shooters, my bed and I started a special relationship.
During O-week, my roommate dragged me out of bed to a Chronicle information session, refusing to listen to my pleas that I had no newspaper, yearbook or magazine experience to speak of. I listened to a group of sophomores speak about the photography department and was slightly intrigued. Then they mentioned a free barbecue that night. Anyone who has had a conversation with me for longer than five minutes knows my famous stomach, so naturally I was drawn in. The party that weekend only sealed the deal. I would join the elite, the proud, the illustrious and become a Chronicle photog. This kicked off four years of intentional unintentionality, both in and out of the classroom.
My first assignment was a challenging and tricky one: taking pictures of Whole Foods. And man, did I take a lot of insipid and boring photos of that building. Five minutes later, I was standing in the Whole Foods manager’s office as they deleted all of my photos. Apparently, all photographs had to be approved in advance.
After my bright start as a professional building photographer, I actually learned how to take a photo and began picking up as many assignments as possible. I took on random assignments on a whim and learned more things about this University than actually necessary.
Outside of The Chronicle, I joined club after club. I never turned down something that seemed novel or slightly interesting, whether or not they offered free food. I tried to absorb something from every new occurrence and used each one to propel me to learn more about myself.
Sophomore year I discovered EOS travel courses and commenced my free travel spree. Junior year I left the Bull City and wandered around Ecuador, trying to convince the entire country that I could actually form a coherent sentence in Spanish.
Throughout my four years and among my numerous commitments, the Chronicle office started to become a second home. Whenever given the chance to try something new, I went for it. Going across the country on red-eye flights for sporting events, editing photos with LoYo in one hand and a beer in the other, and spending absurdly late nights in the office talking and watching unhealthy amounts of television define the rest of my Chronicle experience.
On one of the last days of my summer internship before senior year, I was standing inside a freezer (I promise this is more normal than it sounds) when I got a phone call offering me a last-minute position on the photo masthead. In my normal fashion, I considered the prospect for a full two seconds and made an impulsive decision, taking on what would be the most time-consuming venture of my Duke career. Untrained and clueless about everything involved with putting a paper in the stands every morning, I struggled to fulfill the role of being an editor. Instead of the fire sale senior year I had crafted with my friends, I spent more hours in the Chronicle office than my own dorm room. But in those countless hours, I met several remarkable underclassmen who became some of my closest friends, and I learned more in one year than the other three years combined.
While at Duke, we often get wrapped up in the daily grind. Papers, tests, problem sets, grades mixed in with extracurriculars and internships consume our lives with the goal of getting the perfect job. But what is more memorable about your Duke experience? Staying up until 5 a.m. writing a paper? Or the equally late night discussing the feasibility of eating fifty chicken nuggets (very doable) and who can draw the best duck (ask Beaton for a one-of-a-kind sketch)? The endless opportunities are what make Duke special and are only significant if we take advantage of them. More importantly, the things that may seem random or unintentional can turn out to be the most meaningful.
The only way to end a senior column is with a stereotypical quote: “Never be afraid to try something new because life gets boring when you stay within the limits of what you already know.” So take a deep breath, take the plunge and try something unintentionally new. By which I really mean, march into LoYo, take a chance and try the sorbet.
Caroline Rodriguez is a Trinity senior and the news photography editor for The Chronicle. You can find her anywhere on the interweb as @spyagnes or around anything associated with Local Yogurt.