Who is Nate James?

It’s a telling irony that my Duke career began with acceptance and yet was so defined by the pursuit of it. 

I came to Duke an eager and excited freshman who had never expected to leave New England’s cold and rigid bounds for college.  And when I first took an interest in The Chronicle, I admit it was with some reluctance. I tried to balance other floating extracurriculars, four tough classes and the opportunist social life of a first-year female—a preview of the balancing act to be amplified in the next three years. 

For some time, writing a Chronicle story was a cycle of agony and satisfaction, but I started to learn what it meant to put myself out there in the Duke community. Even after being overlooked and rejected for promotions, I stayed on the Chronicle staff. (Was it an addiction?) I was growing to love the strange, old office with the strange, young people. 

Fast forward to my sophomore year when I traded a healthy and carefree Fall for what would be a tireless and (spoiler!) heartbreaking Spring: I ran for editor of The Chronicle. 

I couldn’t put myself out much farther than that. 

It was election day, and I stood at a podium in front of my peers. It was the hypotheticals portion of the election, when candidates address hypothetical situations to test their knowledge of journalism ethics and management. To have it told back to me, I made it through Hypothetical No. 1 all right. 

As I recall, Hypothetical No. 2 went something like this.

Current editor: “You as editor have just discovered that Nate James has been beating basketball players during practice. Coach Krzyzewski and the Athletics Office threaten to pull all Chronicle access if you run the story. What do you do?”

Me: “Excuse me, but who is Nate James?”

I didn’t notice the pregnant pause of the room. In that moment, I learned that Nate James is an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team. I nodded and delivered my answer: “I’d first consult our sports editor and then …”

I lost the election. That night, on the bathroom floor of our room in the Washington Duke Inn (my parents, bless their hearts, also made a trip in that weekend), I cried more tears than I ever had at Duke. This record would eventually be broken, but more on that later. 

In the following days, I learned the degree of my gaffe. From one close but honest friend: “The sports department was just like ‘no way’ after that.” 

Nate James and his identity didn’t lose me the election completely, but they certainly helped. The silver-lining? It was pretty funny, and at least I had a shot at earning my own Chron-urban legend. 

After the loss, I was at a crossroads. I didn’t quit The Chronicle and never would. 

On my more cynical days, I joke that it wouldn’t be The Chronicle if I wasn’t facing some kind of momentary crisis. Was I delusional to keep going back for more, for taking the next beating that could arguably have been my undoing?

But this risk and ones like it—countless job rejections, a failed bid for Young Trustee, Chronicle award applications—presented me with the opportunities that have defined my time at Duke. In my time as news editor, I learned more than I thought possible: how to be a leader and how much I enjoy making an impact. 

The professors who have so patiently had me in class (thank you) are familiar with the idea that, in some ways, these risks have made me my own worst enemy. The times that my friends past, present and future simply asked “Why?” of my Chronicle involvement are countless. Still, I know that my investment in The Chronicle—setback-tested and rebound-filled—has been invaluable. Without it, I wouldn’t even be aware of the questions or arguments I pose now. 

For me, the senior column is a strange exercise. In these 800 words—a short space to sum up four years and tack on a message, too—I step out from behind the byline and offer my insights, however useful, as today’s news. I am putting myself ‘out there’ in the most physical sense, onto these pages and screens, with the acceptance and strength to know that the reward is in the risk. 

Rejections aren’t special, but trying again (and again) after enduring them might be. So to all the risk-averse Duke students out there, I recommend not letting fear, a gaffe or even a 6’ 6’’ forward keep you from taking a shot.   

Nicole Kyle is a Trinity senior and the special projects editor and former news editor of The Chronicle. She knows that Nate James had 27 blocks in his career at Duke. Thank you to mentors Noko, Lindz, R(A)B, BWS; saviors jamesly, yy and mtru; v. 105-108. A special thanks to Aggie, Swain and the AAA crew for never failing to restore sanity.


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