Livin’ your best life

By the time high school graduation rolled around just four short years ago, I was more than ready for it. Sure, I had enjoyed my time there, and my friends were amazing, but I was ready for the next step. That entire summer was basically just a countdown until I could go to Duke—O-Week could not have come fast enough.

My first impressions on campus were exactly as exciting as I had dreamed. This place—my new home—was made for me, and everything felt right. That is until it came time for my parents to leave Duke, without me. This was exactly what I had prepared for, what I had wanted, so why did it feel so wrong to see them leaving without me?

And I cried. A lot.

It didn’t make sense. I had spent so much time picturing my new life as a college student, but I felt so overwhelmed at what I leaving behind, that I just couldn’t shake a feeling of sadness. Everywhere I looked, there were people telling me I should feel happy about by situation, and I agreed with them. There was so much that I should be feeling happy about! So I resolved to feel happy and move on. I assured myself that there would be no more pointless crying in college.

I was wrong.

During my four years here, I have sobbed more times than I could ever count: failed exams, drunken fights, fears about the future. No experience conjured more crying for me at Duke than my time with The Chronicle. When I decided to run for editor-in-chief as a sophomore, I traded in afternoon lunches with friends for meetings that lasted hours on end to prepare for the position.

I learned everything that I possibly could about the organization and my potential role in it. And when the night of elections finally came, I was ready for it. My platform was ready to go, and my speech was a full reflection of how much I had come to love the organization. Getting the call that I had won was one of the most exciting single moments in my life. The editorship had become my biggest goal, and I had accomplished it.

Immediately I started crying. I was so happy in ways that words couldn’t describe. But as the reality of the situation set in, I came to the realization that my win meant that the three other candidates in the race had lost. In all of my preparation, it hadn’t occurred to me that the best-case outcome for me would mean the worst-case for three of my closest friends.

So pretty quickly, those happy tears turned into confusion. Over the next several weeks, everyone around me echoed congratulations and excitement for me. They told me how happy I should be that I won. And I really was happy. But that didn’t mean I also couldn’t feel sadness at the pain of my friends. Everyone was telling me to feel one way, but in reality there was a lot more to my emotions than anyone else understood.

When I tried to conform to the emotions that others expected me to feel, I ended up alienating aspects of my experience that made it feel complete. I wasn’t whole without acknowledging everything that I was feeling, even when it was messy and imperfect.

Whether I was crying with joy over how good the first sip of a Cookout milkshake felt in my mouth or sobbing out of frustration at a B+ that I just couldn’t get to an A, every emotion I felt while I was a student was part of my Duke experience. And rather than listening to how others said I should be feeling, I wish I would have trusted myself to feel every ounce of joy and sadness that came my way.

Even now, as I prepare to leave Duke and head off to the next stage of pretending to be an adult, everyone around me is telling me how excited I should be at the new opportunity. And I am. I am so excited that I can't help but smile at just the thought of it. But I am also sad. I am sad that I am not going to see the Chapel everyday. And I am sad that I wont ever attend another class as a Duke undergraduate. And I am sad that this phase of my life—one that I have come to love so deeply—is over.

And that’s okay.

No one gets to dictate how I feel, and there is no right or wrong way to feel about something that matters. So I am embracing this confusing mix of emotions that I am feeling as graduation approaches, and I am doing it with the joy of knowing I am lucky to have had an experience that I loved enough to produce these strong feelings.

So look out real world, I’m coming your way living the life that I love and loving the life that I’m living. And if anyone needs me, I’ll probably be the one crying.

Carleigh Stiehm is a Trinity senior. She served as the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle’s 110th volume. She would like to thank her parents for offering her a place to sleep inside the fence despite the weekly requests for support—financially and emotionally; her sister for being a partner-in-crime during people watching marathons at Olive Garden; all of the Chron past (Danielle, Elysia, Lauren) and present (Nick, Elizabeth, Georgia, Amrith) for creating a family in 301; Abigail, Ana and Patricia for keeping her young; and Emma for being the best co-dh, news editor, roommate, feminist theorist and friend a girl could ask for. But mostly she would like to thank her dog for being the best.


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