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All my best

Dear Duke freshman,

I hope o-week is as much of a happy blur for you as it was for me. I hope you introduce yourself to every single C-1 rider you meet and that Marketplace food hasn’t gotten old just yet. Unless things have really changed, three weeks from now you’ll be calling home for more food points. Go to Sunday brunch though. It’s a solid use of a swipe, I promise. The waffles and omelets rock and pretty much every freshman drags himself out of bed for the occasion. I hope you live in Epworth too because Epworth is the best dorm, not to mention the oldest and smallest and moldiest. But even if you’re one of the unfortunates relegated to Belltower, Aycock or Jarvis, get to know your dorm. Never again at Duke, even with the new house model, will you be in such a special living situation.

I hope you have a good roommate. I really, really do. My freshman year roommate was quirky and fun. If you do, and if your biggest arguments are over her eating your favorite homemade cookies in her sleep and why you don’t go out more, hang on to her. 

I hope you haven’t picked a major just yet or if you have, will wait until the very last minute sophomore year to declare it. I came in as an English major and am entering my senior year finishing a major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. 

Why the switch? I was afraid maybe I couldn’t do it. I was afraid because I didn’t know until the summer after freshman year that medical school is what I really want. Maybe that two on my AP Chemistry exam meant I wasn’t cut out for science at Duke. Also, math classes at Duke are curved to a C, and I thought maybe I got into Duke in spite of my lower math SAT score. Back then, I knew I was, had to always be and couldn’t handle not being the best.

But I did. And you can too. We can handle not being the best. More than that, I hope you realize you’re probably not the best, but you’re probably not the worst either. That’s how Duke is, and it’s awesome to be surrounded by greats and weirdly refreshing to get what very well may be your first B in school. 

My dad always told me, “There will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” He was right. But he also told me Santa Claus was real. Push yourself to go beyond what impressions your parents and home and background have had on you, but don’t be afraid to revisit them when you’re feeling lonely or lost.  

I hope you say yes. I hope you say yes if there is a shadow of a doubt in your mind that something might interest you. 

I rushed Panhellenic sororities freshman year because there was that shadow of a doubt, and I ended up joining Kappa Alpha Theta. The first year was great for me and most of the people I met in the organization were too. I became Big-Little Chair sophomore year and even joined the Panhellenic Association board, in charge of the Gamma Chis during recruitment.

I sent in my letter of resignation from Theta yesterday. 

I hope you have the strength to say no, too—to make the right and healthy decisions for you as you go along. I hope you realize before I did that college isn’t about the résumé or reputation. Employers and review boards don’t care about what you did, but how you did it. But even if they do, life is too short to live any other way than doing that which makes you happy. 

Duke is a difficult place to go to school, and I think you’ll soon figure that out for yourself. For me, it’s been hard studying organic chemistry or physics on Saturday nights while my friends go out. For me, it’s been hard coming to terms with the fact that Theta, something I’d put so much time and emotion into, isn’t for me anymore. For me, it was hard having braces for a second time and a major jaw surgery my junior year, returning to Duke with a heavy course load and a swollen face. 

But Duke is a beautiful place to go to school, and I think you’ll soon figure that one out too. For me, my two-month DukeEngage experience in rural Kenya, where one in three people have HIV and poverty is rampant, turned my beliefs on their head. So much so, that I’m still piecing them back together. For me, it’s finding the best and most enduring friendship I’ve ever known. For me, it’s falling in love with and excelling at chemistry after that two on the AP test had me doubting myself. For me, it’s a summer by the sea learning physics and making incredible friends. For me, it’s looking up at the Duke Chapel after a long day in Perkins and remembering just how god damn lucky we are to be here. 

Duke for me you now know, but for you?  

Welcome to Duke. May your journey be challenging, complicated, clarifying and your own. 

All my best,

A Duke 2010 Freshman 

Gracie Willert is a Trinity senior. Her biweekly column will run every other Monday. 



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