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Countdown to life

It’s a little early in the year for nostalgic senior columns, and yet my last year of college has already brought nostalgia with nearly every experience. “It’s our last Homecoming... our last sorority semiformal... our last time to watch the leaves change color on Duke’s campus.”

Saturday brought with it another last—Countdown to Craziness. Now, I probably shouldn’t reveal this anywhere on the Internet, but here goes: I am not a Cameron Crazie. I’ve only been to one basketball game during my Duke career, and that’s because I sang the national anthem there. I went to Countdown to Craziness freshman year, but the long lines alone made me swear I would never go again. (And to think I thought I was going to tent?)

So when my friends said a) let’s go to Countdown and b) let’s wait in line in shifts six hours before Countdown, I was skeptical. Me? A basketball fan my senior year? I hadn’t been before, so why would I change now?

But in the spirit of trying new things and living Duke to the fullest, I went. I waited in line for a two hour-long shift, I danced to music outside Cameron and I watched junior Felix Kung, the yo-yo performer, with fascination. And when the actual basketball team came out, I freaked out. My heart was beating—my palms were sweaty—I even touched a player’s hand! Never before had I cared, but now I promised myself—and my friends—that I would go home, make flashcards and memorize all the players’ names.

In realizing just how excited I was to see a team I had cared little about over the past few years, I finally understood how much Duke truly has to offer. Now that I’m a senior, people are always asking me whether I’m happy I chose Duke. I wish my answer was a resounding yes, but often it’s a tentative "I think so."

When I visited as a high school senior, Duke seemed like the perfect fit. I loved my freshman host and her tight-knit group of friends, and I even got to sit in on a Medieval Literature course—a true foreshadowing of my actual Duke experience. I distinctly remember eating a gooey grilled cheese sandwich from the old Divinity Refectory, sitting outside the Chapel on a warm spring day and chatting with my host’s friends. I thought to myself, this is it. This is where I want to be.

Unfortunately, that memory is only part of the Duke I have lived. Many nights have been spent feeling not good enough, not successful enough, not Duke enough. "Why did I pick this school?" I often thought. But many nights were also spent being so appreciative for everything Duke has given me. I understand now that Duke is not merely its often greek-dominated social scene, athletic pride or rigorous academics. It’s not one of these things. It’s all of these things.

And so for someone who is probably more academic than athletic or Panhellenic, this was a hard realization to come to at first. I struggled to figure out who I was within the context in Duke, and that led to a beautiful process—that thing called “finding yourself.” By sifting through the different personalities offered to me by Duke, I picked the one that fit me.

For a while, I tried to ignore the other parts of Duke. I said to myself, well, sure, some people are like that, but not me. But the truth is, the harder you try to ignore them, the more you realize they’re part of the experience. But this year, coming back from a semester abroad that made me think critically about my Duke life, I realized that the challenges are part of the University’s beauty. The struggle really does make you stronger.

So when the lights came up on the basketball team, when the crowd cheered, when the Cameron Crazies danced on the big screen, I felt a pang of happiness and sadness all at once. I guess that’s what they call nostalgia. I sat there in Cameron, cheering on a basketball team I instinctively loved because it was part of something I held so dear.

That is the beauty that is Duke. It has challenged me, it has hurt me, made me cry, made me smile, laugh and love more than I ever thought possible. But by being everything all at once, Duke has asked me not to figure it out, but to figure myself out. Thanks for that.

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