I’m a list maker. I make lists.
The first list of my Duke career was assembled on the floor of Randolph 229 crafted in a haze of too-fruity wine and anticipation of what the next four years had yet to bring. I was sitting in a circle of new faces, surrounded by the hall mates who would soon grow to become some of my closest friends. Born of brightly colored pens and seven sheets of printer paper, the Duke Bucket List came into the world.
It was an impressive assembly of 117 items vital to any meaningful Duke experience, as told by a group of girls who didn’t really know Duke at all yet. Some of the obvious choices—go tunneling, paint the east campus overpass, sneak onto the football field— stood beside some more creative additions—film a music video to Wagon Wheel to become YouTube sensations, sing with Mike Posner, eat food in Shooters.
That first year, we dedicated ourselves to a common pursuit of the list. Its 117 challenges were a guide to our new school and the new strangers who called it their school too. The triumphant satisfaction that came with the crossing-off of each item was our motivation, and we lived that year according to rules that we had set for ourselves. Though we hadn’t quite conquered the entire list by the time May rolled around, we vowed that someday, when we were all a bit more daring, we’d get there.
That wasn’t the last list I’d make in college, though maybe it should have been.
As time went on, to-do lists became a kind of religion—pieces of paper I’d follow in unwavering faith. Each semester they’d get longer and more regimented. Weekly lists soon became daily ones, then hourly. They spread to my laptop and phone, to my desk and my fridge. Listing provided a reassurance that things could get done, that there were enough hours in the day just like there was enough space on the page. But it also spurred profound, unnecessary stress. Completing the day’s tasks became more important than the day itself, and so often, I’d say no to the things I wanted to do just because I couldn’t justify making room for them on the almighty list.
I know that most of us keep such lists. I know because it’d be nearly impossible to survive at a place like Duke without them. Academic success, extracurricular involvement, impactful leadership—all the clichés that students here are nudged towards take preparation. Effortless perfection is an empty phrase despite how many times we’ve been told it’s possible. Perfection, or at least the pursuit of it, requires effort. It requires planning. It requires LISTS.
But I’ll always remember how one particularly inspiring professor of mine, though there were many, concluded her final lecture. She strayed away from the curriculum to give the class a more personal edification. “Leave a little spot in your life for the unknown. Don’t fill it all in,” she said in earnest.
In thinking about my Duke, I’ve come to find that my most meaningful experiences happened outside the confines of my to-do list. They were the Chronicle assignments I picked up on a whim, the nights I spent with friends doing absolutely nothing and laughing about absolutely everything, the conversations and chance encounters that were too perfect to be planned.
A list may be a necessary facet of responsibility, but what sneaks in between its lines is what really matters. It’s so difficult to decide when to start a to-do list and when to end one or when to stay focused on some pre-ordained task and when to stray from it. But maybe we’d all be better off living in our bucket lists instead, for they’re ultimately the ones that challenge us to pursue those little spots of the unknown.
A few weekends from now, I’ll walk into a baseball stadium a student and walk out an alumna. Beyond that Sunday afternoon, I’m not really sure what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be, and that’s the biggest little unknown of all.
Emma Loewe is a Trinity senior and the news photography editor of the Chronicle. She’d like to thank her Chron fam, her real fam, and the co-creators of that first Duke Bucket List.
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