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I got lucky with Duke

Remember your decision to come to Duke?

When was the last time you had to make a decision of that magnitude? That decision decided not only where you were going to spend the next four years of your life but also a set of values and environment that will shape you during your most formative years.

I didn’t come to Blue Devil Days. I actually never visited Duke nor did I experience a college tour. I didn’t ask multiple students and alumni about the school. I headed off to North Carolina not knowing what I was signing up for. It seemed like the perfect setup for a potentially huge mistake.

Very luckily, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

But now, I’m trying to make another decision. This one is due on April 30th. I have to decide where I will be spending the next four years of my life which will include choosing my specialty, developing my bedside manner, learning professional values and so much more. This process seems nothing like choosing Duke for undergrad.

Many others are still deciding on their graduate school, medical school, jobs or service trips, and I salute you if you’ve already made that decision.

As for me, I’ve made tables and lists of everything about anything. How is the political climate? How is the temperature climate? I’ve thought about the values of the school and the ideas talked about on campus. Should I choose a place with better athletics? How about the feel of the city? Does it have Uber? Do I like their airport?

One place has more ambitious students, but not the right culture of the school. A third has better athletics but yet another has more relevant research. One place is nice and warm but doesn’t have as agreeable of a political climate. One place has a lot of A but is lacking in B. Another has those two reversed.

Duke, however, has terrific athletics AND relevant research. It is filled with ambitious, high-achieving students, and it challenges them to apply their knowledge in the service of society. The triangle region has warm summers and cold winters. It is both liberal and conservative. Duke has organized house systems and independent housing.

Religions coexist. Professors enjoy interacting with their students. Students build great relationships with professors. Flunches, FINvites and faculty talks occur left and right. There are both niches of self-selecting student groups and also diverse social bodies. Want to try something new? Join a dance group, write for the school newspaper or teach a house course!

Duke has its occasional scandals and underlying inequalities, but the student body works so hard to challenge and correct them. As I read on Yik Yak, “everywhere has its problems, but at least Duke talks about them.”

Durham is also so unique despite the belittlement of outsiders. It’s small, but that does not mean there is nothing going on. Where else are there Pauli Murray murals all over the city and a unique tobacco warehouse style for anything from apartments and office space to research laboratories? Where else does a substance abuse recovery program form the largest moving and storage company in the city? There’s so much wonderful work in the community and pride in the city. It also has Uber, and RDU airport isn’t bad either!

And so in my final column ever as a columnist, I just wanted to thank Duke. Not just because it has given me a wonderful undergraduate experience but also because, back as a high school student, I didn’t know what was good for me. I selected Duke not knowing it had the perfect environment I would flourish in. I’ve never fully appreciated everything Duke has to offer until now. And now, I am choosing the life I have to lead after Duke. Maybe trying to replicate Duke is what makes my decision so hard. Back when I was less mature, I was so lucky that Duke wanted me; and back then, I wanted Duke back.

I won’t be in another place so perfect ever again.

James Tian is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday.


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