*Name has been changed to protect the student’s identity

Wilson residence hall was in an uproar. It was election night 2016. One student rushed into the common room, carrying a lifesize cardboard cutout of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the night, sophomore Ben Peterson* and three others climbed Baldwin Auditorium with the cutout, placing it on top. They tied it down with a hanger since they had no rope and weighed it down with rocks and a traffic cone. Peterson said he isn’t sure who came up with the idea to put the cutout on top of the roof, but several students had been upset about the election results.

“It relieves a lot of stress and frustration,” Peterson said. “It was nothing harmful, but we made a statement.”

Early the next morning, Duke maintenance workers took down the cutout. But several students with 8:30 a.m. classes noticed it in time to take videos of the removal. 

Peterson said he had always been curious about climbing Baldwin. A month and a half into his first year, he heard a few others in his dorm talking about it. The first time Peterson climbed, he was alone, wearing white shorts, a bright shirt and the wrong shoes for this kind of activity. He was somewhat visible even in the dark, but he said he wasn’t worried about getting caught.

Since then, Peterson has climbed Baldwin about five times, often with friends such as fellow sophomore Ahmed Ahmed-Fouad.

The first time Ahmed-Fouad climbed Baldwin, it was on a whim. When he mentioned to Peterson that he hadn’t yet climbed Baldwin, Peterson decided they should go together. It was around midnight, near the end of their first semester at Duke.

“It was definitely harder than expected,” Ahmed-Fouad said. “[I thought] it would be an easy thing, where there’s a path that everyone takes, but it’s kind of like however you can find a way up, you find a way up.”

For a while, the easiest way to start the climb was through a window in the second-floor corner dorm room in either Bassett or Pegram. Senior Dane Burkholder lived in that room of Bassett his first year, but a metal grate had been installed prior to his arrival.

“There were two or three instances where someone random would knock on my door to climb [Baldwin],” Burkholder wrote in an email. “I had to turn them away because my room didn't work anymore.”

That didn’t stop students from finding alternate routes. Ahmed-Fouad made the journey using a broken pipe that led him to the bridge between Baldwin and Bassett. He and Peterson took an orange traffic cone from outside Baldwin up with them, passing it back and forth as they went. At the top, they used it to mark their achievement.

Ahmed-Fouad and Peterson weren’t the only ones either—at least a few students try to check this item off their bucket list each year, noted Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct. John Dailey, chief of Duke University Police Department, added that DUPD received three calls last year about students climbing Baldwin. 

Bryan wrote in an email that students thought to have climbed Baldwin are asked to attend an administrative hearing with an OSC staff member. If the staff member finds the student responsible for violating policy, the punishment usually includes a disciplinary probation and a reflective assignment. 

Bryan encouraged students to find fun things to do that are safe and don’t break laws or Duke policies.

“Serious falls from buildings occur every year on college campuses,” Bryan wrote. “Even though students may feel confident in their abilities, the slightest misstep could result in tragedy.”

Safety was admittedly one of Ahmed-Fouad’s concerns when he climbed Baldwin. He said even Peterson, who is normally fairly light-hearted, was cautious and serious when they climbed together. Peterson said he can understand the dangers involved as well, particularly when students are intoxicated.

But these concerns didn’t stop Ahmed-Fouad from climbing a second time.

He wanted to see how far up he could go—he hadn’t gone as high as possible the previous time. Although he couldn’t reach the top because it was too steep and slippery, but he was high enough to have an expansive view of the city.

“Durham’s really flat—there’s not a lot of really high buildings, so you basically get to see everything,” Ahmed-Fouad said. “Any tall building, anything out, any lights, you see everything in all different directions, which is pretty cool.”

The five major unofficial graduation requirements have become a part of Duke’s student culture, passing from student to student by word-of-mouth. Along with climbing Baldwin, the other bucket list items are having sex in the Duke Gardens, having sex in the stacks in Perkins Library, driving around the Chapel Drive circle backwards and exploring the tunnels below East Campus. 

Ahmed-Fouad said he thinks the requirements are fun because students were the ones to establish them. He encouraged students to try some of the unofficial requirements if they find them interesting—not for the requirement aspect but just for the fun.

“It was exciting,” Ahmed-Fouad said. “I think it was something that if you’re physically able to do it, and you’re not afraid of heights, definitely something that you need to try.”

Ahmed-Fouad felt the requirements could also change as new activities become more popular. He saw them as suggestions rather than “requirements” and thought they could eventually grow into a long list passed down through the years.

Similarly, Peterson said the requirements all have a “mischief factor.” He said he enjoys them because they are adventurous and they change up the routine, noting that he has only one of the five unofficial graduation requirements left.

“Memories like that are fun,” Peterson said. “[They] leave a lasting smile about what you did at school.”