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To the class of 2020

Congratulations! You have now joined a community that will continuously frustrate you, challenge you, shape you and inspire you. Duke has so much to offer albeit the diligence you must invest, and it has given me so much to be grateful for. I am confident it will do the same for you.

As you prepare yourselves for a new environment like none other, you will receive advice that may feel overwhelming. And so, it is now my duty to impart a better litany of freshman-year lessons upon you.

Before I begin, I must disclose: my experiences are not the norm and neither are anyone else's. Nonetheless, I hope my perspective can quell some anxiety and inform you of the diversity you will face.

1. Pace yourself

O-week, new classes, new environments, superficial social encounters and the boundless opportunities at your disposal make it easily possible to burn out by the end of your first semester. While signing up for and later unsubscribing from tens of email list-servers is lauded as the norm for all “accomplished and well-rounded” Duke students, the reality of hyper-activity can be costly to other aspects of student life.

2. Prioritize

My freshman year, I committed wholeheartedly to many organizations, including one that drew great parallels to what had defined my high school experience. However, as time progressed and I took a greater leadership position in the organization, I came to recognize that while I was passionately giving my greatest effort, the club was no longer rewarding. As I better understood what motivates me, I learned to better appreciate my time and the commitments I could fully involve myself in. In “dropping” this involvement and others in favor of those more attuned to my passions and career aspirations, I have found facets to impact change and could not be happier.

3. Wait it out

“Wait for second semester” are perhaps the greatest four words of advice I could have received my first semester. I did not meet some of my best friends at Duke until second semester thanks to sheer luck and the time I needed to find my grounding. While I have drifted apart from many so-called “first-semester friends,” I do not regret any of the relationships I built that made Duke seem less daunting for those early weeks. That said, there are those who stumble upon and immediately click (and clique) with a group of friends that they continue with throughout their Duke journey. So I say, do what you feel is right, and do not worry if yours is not a quintessential college friend group in the short-run, long-run or even ever. Clear-cut friend groups do not really exist and the quicker you can validate this idea, the better.

4. Upperclassmen are your friends

I have been so fortunate to have befriended some incredible upperclassman upon my arrival at Duke. To quote the multimillionaire businessman Robert Herjavec, “Start being present to embrace the learning opportunities all around you. Ask your colleagues...for their points of view. Seek advice from your direct leader or leader once removed. Start having conversations and soaking in the mentorship moments.” Not only have I received such great advice and mentorship from them, the food points alone make relationships with upperclassman worthwhile!

5. Dare to be alone

There is an inescapable societal stigma against solitude. Our generation fears emptiness and this fear can manifest itself in various ways. Personally, time alone has been time to reflect, de-stress, collect my thoughts and breathe without the strain that interpersonal relationships can often impose. Within the chaos of your first year, dare to do just that.

6. Do not anticipate rush

The havoc of second-semester SLG and Greek-life rush can create an allure around social exclusivity. Some will tell you that you will lose your friends to sisterhoods/brotherhoods, and while that statement might hold some merit, you will make the effort to continue worthy relationships. Recognize now that a social group is a minute aspect of one's identity. Furthermore, in thinking about this during your upcoming semester, you risk forgoing friendships that will transcend social boundaries.

7. Explore Duke and Durham

My first week, I needed to go to the Global Health Institute to meet a professor. Unfamiliar with the bus system, I sporadically yanked the cord and proceeded to walk around Central Campus apartments for forty minutes in the blazing summer sun. By the time I arrived at Trent Hall, the professor had left for the day. However, thanks to that experience, I can now navigate Central Campus. Even closer to your future residences on East Campus are the restaurants and shops on Ninth Street waiting to be similarly navigated. Duke and Durham are both breathtaking and vibrant; do not deprive yourself of the chance to explore both the campus and city.

8. Take a house course

Freshmen, take a house course! Not only will you receive a half-credit that contributes to the 34-credit graduation requirement (which allows you to more easily underload later on), you get this credit in a less formal environment conducive to the exchange of ideas. If you are unsure on which to take, I highly recommend Women and International Development; the course, a discussion-based half-credit, covers global political, economic and social plights and will be engaging regardless of your prior academic interests.

9. Ignore everything I just said

So maybe that heading is a little misleading. But I implore you to be original in the path you take. No one will know what your Duke career will hold, not even yourself. The preparations you make will never account for the whimsical occurrences that will most certainly define your next few years.

Lastly, while a “2020” class name might lead you to believe that your futures are as clear as can be, I am pleased to say your time will be a blurry conglomeration of inside jokes, overwhelming academics, late nights in Perkins, food point splurges and life-long memories. Be strong, be daring, be flexible but above all, be your-(changing)-selves.

Best of luck.

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity sophomore. If you have a question or comment for her, she can be reached at

Sabriyya Pate

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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