In my four years at Duke, I have driven up Chapel Drive hundreds of times.
Most Duke students have, in jampacked C-1s on the way to class, on weekend journeys to Perkins, on late-night returns to West with trays of Cookout.
My first trip to Duke’s campus was almost eighteen years ago. I grew up just down the road (some might say eight miles), but my family enjoyed visiting Duke’s gorgeous campus and gardens. My only memories of these first trips to campus are from photographs, but in each of these photos, the Chapel is there, ever-present in the background.
The first few times I journeyed up Chapel Drive as a student at Duke, I remember being distinctly in awe, full of that freshman-year enthusiasm and hope for the next four years, the best four years of my life.
But some time over the course of my undergraduate career, the drive up to the Chapel somehow lost its wonder. Where the Chapel once stood as the towering icon of Duke’s campus, the epitome of the gothic architecture of the place I’d come to call home, the drive from the roundabout up to the West bus stop had become just another necessary part of the day. Instead of appreciating the Chapel, the drive became a race to get to West and move onto one of the millions of tasks on my to-do list.
During my first week at Duke, I somehow wandered into The Chronicle’s halls in 301 Flowers, which sits directly in the shadows of the Chapel. I can’t even recall how exactly I ended up at my first Sunday-night photo meeting, but all of a sudden I was an associate photo editor with once-a-week shifts, and then I was the incoming sports photography editor, and then Chron had become my whole life.
The Chronicle has given me so many amazing opportunities, and I’m incredibly grateful for each and everyone of them. From covering a speech by President Obama to sitting courtside at Duke-UNC games in Cameron and the Dean Dome to getting to understand and capture the wonderful, diverse, overwhelmingly talented and passionate students of this campus.
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Several months ago, I had one of the most incredible weekends of my life. Friday night I covered a speech by Laverne Cox, and, thanks to a Chronicle press pass, I got to go backstage and speak with her. Two days later, I was sitting on the floor at Madison Square Garden watching Tyus Jones pour in 22 points as Duke overcame a double-digit deficit to earn Coach K’s 1000th win.
These were some of the best moments of my Duke career, and I am forever grateful to the Chronicle for giving me these experiences. But as I look back now at my past four years at Duke, it isn’t these moments that mean the most.
It’s the long nights and sometimes mornings in 301, ordering too many Loop milkshakes and screaming along to Taylor Swift.
It’s the times you forget about work for a while, choosing instead to lounge around in bed and talk about your hopes and dreams and future with your friends.
It’s the afternoons you spend on the plaza or in Vondy or in the Gardens, probably wasting time but inevitably making the most of it.
It’s the people who are there to guide you and those who you are there to guide.
It’s the family that formed in that office in Flowers, the incredible community of exceptionally passionate and unique individuals who come together every day to make something amazing.
It’s the way the light hits the Chapel at golden hour and the way you can’t help but slow down and take it all in.
Over the past few weeks, every drive up to West has had me overthinking, counting down. Because there’s only so many more days that I’ll get to make the trek up Chapel Drive, drive on that forever-bumpy road with the windows rolled down and take it all in.
I used to get irrationally mad at people who would slow or even stop their cars in the middle of the road to take a picture of the Chapel. But now, I find myself wanting to do the same.
In a few weeks, I’ll make my last drive away from West as an undergrad, and I’ll probably take the cliche photo of the Chapel in my rearview mirror (What can I say? I’m a photog). But I know that when I look at that picture, I’ll remember the four years when I could call Duke mine.
And it’s because along the way, I learned to enjoy the drive.
Elysia Su is a Trinity senior and photographer for The Chronicle. She would like to thank her parents and sister for dealing with her for always; yy, ajk, crod, dbb, beats, spalenberg, thanh-ha, sophs, dani, bri, lize, nicole, em, carleigh, mouse, ga, izzi and everyone v107-v110 for making chron a family; and bdgt, shelb+cor+ana and taylor for keeping her sane.