This semester has brought a considerable amount of new things to campus: West Union, the class of 2020 and, for rising seniors, the anxiety of post-graduation planning. On top of their normal classwork, seniors are now pressed with the intimidating task of preparing for a life outside of Duke. For some, that means mastering the MCAT; for others, that means persevering through Ph.D. applications; for others still, that means beginning harrowing hunt for a job; for all, it means serious thought about the meaning of a successful life. As the semester and year carry on, seniors would do well to reflect on how they define personal success. They would also do well, as their eyes turn beyond Duke, to consider how they might help out their younger peers in order to line them, too, up for success.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the stress of approaching a new chapter in life. It is easier still, when a person obsesses over comparing their struggles with their peers’ successes. A crucial thing for a senior to keep in mind during avalanches of applications and interviews is that it matters very little to their futures what happens to their friends now. While peers might appear to be getting into prestigious medical schools left and right, that has no bearing on their own success. A senior might even find, in the midst of his/her own medical school pursuits, that the skills and traits they possess uniquely position them to ace nursing school and go on to heal and comfort others. For them to pivot away from med school applications and become a nurse would be its own success. The crux of success lies in living a life that is both fulfilling and beneficial to others. It takes courage to pivot away from money in order to devote one’s self to service, but perhaps that is the price of success.
For those who find themselves unable to live a fulfilling life because of their job, solace might be found in the hope of finding a personally worthwhile job in the future. Such people could also find success in life outside of their job—volunteering, teaching others and raising a virtuous new generation.
Without a doubt, defining and worrying about success is a weighty business. While seniors are bound to be caught up in it at some level, they ought to also consider how to build up the younger citizens of Duke to ensure that they, too, have a strong shot at a successful life. Generous donations lavished during mid-life crises will certainly help young students, but seniors can begin giving back now, during their last school year. To begin, they should remain present and visible on campus. Younger students need leaders and role models. Seniors should think back to their arrival at Duke and be the older peer they wanted to have when they were first-years. That doesn’t necessarily have mean they have to establish long-term mentorships: it might take the simple form of offhand advice, compliments and caring. Whether it be through SLGs, clubs or sport teams, seniors should provide guidance and be a useful resource for the next generation of Duke students. As they ponder success, they might find that another word—legacy—goes hand-in-hand with it. By helping, molding and giving advice to those with less experience, Duke seniors will leave a lasting legacy on campus and take the first step on the road to righteous success.
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