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To the class of 2021



I'm sure you've been showered with praise (and stickers?) since getting your acceptance letter to Duke, so I'll skip all of the congratulatory messages. That being said, you should recognize it as a privilege to be accepted, and I do hope you come.

Anyways, I know some of you already—you’ve stayed in my dorm room, or you went to my high school, or I know you for other reasons. But I don't know most of you and will probably never meet you.

Some of you have dreamed of coming here your entire life and are ecstatic. Some of you have only learned about Duke right before you applied but are still ecstatic. Some of you have mixed feelings. Some of you may have wanted to get in to other "better" schools. Some of you may have even forgotten that you applied to Duke. (Whoops.)

Some of you want to come here to pursue a liberal arts education, to explore subjects that may or may not be practical, to delve deeply into an intellectual subject for four years. Others are drawn by the financial aid and the financial security that Duke promises for entirely non-superficial reasons, like continuing “the family tradition of making life harder for poor people" by "pursuing a degree in economics," as Duke's Editorial Board wrote upon a few weeks ago. 

(That was a joke, by the way.)

Regardless of your reactions and motives, it's tough to deny that Duke is seductive, even after I’ve spent a year here. A blog I used to frequently read wrote: "Almost nobody gets sexier when you get to know them better. People are at their very sexiest when you know about 10 minutes about them, scattered over a few weeks or months. They put on the charm, they seem to listen and laugh at your jokes."

Duke isn’t a person, but it's hard not to be seduced by an institution like Duke. I was walking around the Chapel a few weeks ago when I said to a friend "it's really nice…it's like college brochure season!" And this was even before all the new flowers and turf were planted and before the cherry blossoms had bloomed.

It's even harder not be seduced by Blue Devil Days, the flawless weather, the ridiculously green lawns, the bubbly and friendly students, the sheer freedom f college. It's hard to imagine that things could stay like this forever. And to be fair, they won’t. The grass on the quad will eventually be less green, (both literally and figuratively), the seasons will change, the other students will become preoccupied with things that aren't solely about entertaining you, and you will come to terms with the reality that Duke is a school above all else—and while academics doesn't involve sitting in a chair for eight hours a day, five days a week, and can actually be fun, they also don't have the hype of Blue Devil Days.

An upperclassman neuroscience major explained things to me well after I mentioned that I enjoyed my classes the most at the beginning of the semester, when things were still new: "You've bought in to the cultural idea that happiness equates to a temporary rush of dopamine in your brain. Instead, you should be after consistently higher levels of serotonin."

And even though I know very little about the functions of dopamine and serotonin, I get the gist—more stability is better than less. But still, there are going to be some bumps and patches in the transition.

In my case, it means going to your first-ever frat party during orientation week and absolutely hating it.

It means being laughed at and cut off when you share your experience of hating your first off campus frat party on a panel when asked about Duke social life.

It could mean having a plan for a Friday night and then being told by people "I don’t like that."

It means worrying about finding the right people, about conforming to stereotypes.

But it also means finding the people who will let you cry to them, finding the people who will listen. It means pushing yourself to reach out to the few people who you've only met a handful of times but still liked. It means pushing to see past those same stereotypes other people accuse you of. Academically, it means that everything is available to you at Duke, they mean it. But instead of being freeing, it can be stifling and terrifying. However, once you realize that Duke gives you the time and space to figure out what you want to do, it gets better.

Early on in my first semester, my professor dropped a comment about how Duke contained a microcosm of every societal issue in America today. And while the bubble of a liberal arts college certainly exists, I’d argue that his statement was true.

If you were reading this looking for advice on where to go, I can’t help you there. Come to Blue Devil Days, but stay for the real experience. Good luck.

Amy Fan is a Trinity first-year. Her column, "fangirling" runs on alternate Tuesdays.

Amy Fan | fangirling

Amy Fan is a Trinity senior. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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