My proudest achievement to date is receiving a C+ in Statistics 101. 

That sounds weird, given that Duke is a place where people destined for greatness go to share their lives—and on Wednesday and Saturdays, their saliva—with their fellow great minds, also destined to achieve impressive heights. 

In 2014, as I sat in a crowded chapel among freshmen listening to President Brodhead outline the class members’ grand achievements prior to Duke, I was genuinely moved by the opportunities I would be afforded in my three years.  Here, amongst the greats—professional dancers, concert pianists, a likely hungover Grayson Allen and like 75 future Goldman analysts—I knew that I too, could be destined for greatness. 

Now, it can't go without saying that there was a certain degree of irony in that experience. Sitting in the annual convocation is a uniquely humbling experience for any Duke student; every year, the dean of admissions specifically calls out the best and brightest of who I was already pretty sure were the best and brightest. He spotlighted the achievements of these students, who deigned to honor Duke with their presence. 

Myself, on the other hand? I had received a rejection letter to the university 15 months prior and had crawled my way back in. 

But nonetheless, I felt inspired. After all, this was the school Terry Sanford had called for to have outrageous ambitions—and I was going to go along with my classmates in seeing Uncle Terry's wishes through. The difference between my outrageous ambitions and those of my classmates was my emphasis on outrageous. Because that is exactly how some of my efforts turned out to be. 

The topline of my failures would have to be a failed presidential campaign for DSG president junior year, followed up for a close second by my failed vice presidential campaign for Vice President of Academic Affairs during my sophomore year. These were followed up by not one but two failed campaigns for DSG president and young trustee that I helped manage for friends. At some point, it seemed as though anything I touched turned into a loss. There were plenty of social gaffes, for sure—asking "What bay?" when somebody told me they were from the bay area is my favorite—as well as little things, like the time I wore a blazer to a frat party or cried on an airplane going home for fall break because I had forgotten how fast they travel when they take off. 

And then there were my academic shortcomings. I, like many of my classmates, found solace in the public policy department and was deeply perturbed anywhere outside it. After turning in my final spanish test of college, my professor held both my hands together and said, "Thank God we both got through this" (or at least I think that's what she said; I was never particularly good at spanish). 

The proud C+ in Statistics 101 was a constant battle predicated on my inability to conceptualize the 'sum' function on Excel and my foregone conclusion that coding on R, much like spanish, was a language I was never going to understand. I got very lucky in "Math is Everywhere," a course that heavily incorporated problem sets I could never grasp. When probing a friend to help me on a question about vectors by which I was particularly stumped, he very kindly said to me, "This is how you would teach coding if you were going to teach it to a sixth grader."

Like I said, I'm a true intellectual. 

My goal is not to shock you into thinking "Woah, how did Duke give this girl a degree" (although sometimes I, too, am a bit perplexed), but rather to serve as a reminder that sometimes it is ok to fail. The drive for effortless perfection is not unique to Duke, but it's pervasive nonetheless. We spend a lot of our time committed to the idea that we need to be perfect without letting anyone know how hard we're trying. And as much as we try to cultivate our Instagrams to the contrary, most of us know that the life we're living on the internet is far better than the life we live in reality. 

It’s understandable that failure is so taboo, given that the culture of Duke dictates you shouldn't look like you're trying hard while you're trying hard. It's one thing to sacrifice sleep, a healthy diet and rich friendships while maintaining good grades. It's another thing to give up on all that and still come up short. There were long nights in the library and afternoons in my professors' offices that I spent grueling over a problem set or an economic concept, only to fall short on the test or the paper and to fumble until the semester's end. 

It's impossible to have the "outrageous ambition" Terry Sanford sought after without outrageous failure. Look at Central Campus as a prime example. Duke’s architects spend months picking the right modern masonry to integrate into West - and yet Central is far from a gothic wonderland. It's hard to be successful as a whole without taking quite a few hits in the process. But the thing is that nobody looks at someone's LinkedIn and tries to guess what companies or schools rejected them before. We shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that any one person has reached the pinnacle of success on a never-ending upward trajectory unfazed by failure or a bungled pass. And quite honestly, I doubt anyone ever does. But it's easy to forget the sorts of experiences that may have shaped somebody's life when you're looking from the top down. It would be unwise to yearn for the same success other Duke alums have reached while assuming it won’t be afforded to you if others around you know that you failed.

And sure, I try to make my public persona seem like I glided to graduation day on a wave of academic and social success—so much so that I’ve been elevated to a pedestal in the Chronicle where I get to impart my sage wisdom unto you, my few but loyal readers. But the reality is that I didn’t get here easily, and there are days where I’m just trying to tread above the water. Graduating from Duke didn’t mean my failures were over; it meant they had only just begun. My email is filled with job applications for which I never got called back. I leave work on any given day with relief if I’ve managed to only mess one thing up and I’ve cried on no less than two occasions in a Whole Foods. 

I didn’t get my C+ grade in statistics framed, mostly by virtue of the fact that I still couldn’t quite figure out how Coursera worked and I had not-so-accidentally recycled the textbook on my way out of LSRC. But what lasted with me longer than the meaning of  “significance value” or Bayes theorem is the fact that failure isn’t just a virtue—it’s a necessity.  

Annie Adair is a Trinity '17 graduate.