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Space (or something like it)

If you saw a girl crying over her laptop in Von der Heyden during the past few days, it was likely me.

I wanted to give justice to my four years here in 800 words. This required poring over my four years at length, reminding myself of the highs and lows and the in-betweens. But I couldn’t get it right. Thus, the tears. (Listening to “Wonderwall” on repeat probably didn’t help).

We all want a perfect college experience. The best four years of your life seem especially within reach at Duke, where you’re offered a laundry list of opportunities. You can paint your face blue, study under excellent professors and travel the globe through DukeEngage. But going through the motions never really did it for me, and it was clear that doing things because they are billed as rewarding will never be rewarding for me.

My perfect Duke experience was going to start with joining The Chronicle. Luckily, this turned out to be a very good decision.

The Chronicle became my family of sorts here. While many communities at Duke require you to rush, apply, pay dues, write essays and interview, The Chronicle was always welcoming. All it required was my time, and that I (try to) meet deadlines.

The Chronicle’s office is never featured amongst the stone facades and glass boxes in Duke brochures, and there’s a reason for that. It’s an office haphazardly squeezed into a hallway, with iMac screens framed by stacks of empty Fresca cans and very comfortable couches with very mysterious histories. Here, we discussed Duke’s shortcomings, complained about excessively long DSG meetings and found common ground. Perhaps it was fitting that the place where I felt the strongest sense of belonging was one of the oddest spaces on campus. I often struggled to feel like I belonged in many other spaces at Duke, which makes me especially grateful for our beloved 301 Flowers.

Duke, I have to be honest. You were so much harder than I thought you would be. While I was prepared for the hours of studying in the library, I was not prepared for the social hierarchy and the feeling that I will never be beautiful enough or smart enough. I was not prepared for the feeling that I had to be the best if I wanted to be valued.

It took me way too long to be able to say these things aloud. How could I admit that my experience was anything less than perfect when I had chosen this school? I applied here early decision, dazzled by visions of scholarly pursuits in front of a Gothic stone backdrop, inevitably wearing fewer layers due to the temperature difference between North Carolina and Minnesota. Although I was studying and socializing, I was also wondering how I could have been so naive to think this was the right place for me.

I so badly didn’t want to squander this opportunity. But if I’ve learned anything at Duke, it’s that facing challenges doesn’t mean you’re wasting time. Obstacles suck, but the process of confronting them and overcoming them is more meaningful than any easy victory. Feeling out of place can be a blessing because it forces you to understand why you feel out of place.

I wish you four challenging years that force you to figure out what is actually important to you and what brings you joy. You’ll have to try things and fail at them, and that isn’t usually fun. But, it’s certainly empowering. It’s learning that affiliating with people is more important than affiliating with labels. It’s deciding that hiding behind your byline isn’t as exciting to you as doing something that makes you worthy of being interviewed. It’s creating spaces that are yours.

Some friends and I were recently discussing how often Duke students use the ‘triumph narrative’ when recounting their time here. It’s a common theme in senior columns and Me Too monologues: we struggle, but eventually we are happy. Things are hard, but then they get better. And as much as I’d like to avoid being trite, I probably do follow this narrative. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I am leaving with some bruises but a hell of a lot more confidence. And I could not be more grateful.

Anna Koelsch is a Trinity senior and has worked for The Chronicle for four years. She wants to thank everyone who made The Chronicle’s office into a home, including Nicole, Lindsey, Taylor, Sanette, Nick, Margie, YeoYeo, Lauren, Michaela, Julian, Yesh, Danielle, Elysia, Emma and everyone else.


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