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Make the most of your education

not jumping to any conclusions

“Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” The famous Mark Twain quote has always resonated with me. Time and time again, I have fallen back on the wisdom of every middle school English student’s bane, as I endeavor to pen the next chapter of life’s bildungsroman.

In the past week, I have skipped my 10:05 a.m. Operating Systems lecture to sleep-in after a night at DeVine’s, delayed my studies for an upcoming economics exam to attend a lectureship series event and written this column in lieu of writing a final essay.  I remind myself of Twain’s declaration, and am convinced of my decisions. Had I forgone these opportunities to exert more effort into my classes, I would have missed the chance to solidify life-long friendships with compatriots over Bud Light tallboys, hear Reince Priebus’s unqualified thoughts on the Trump presidency, and voice these thoughts on this page. And so I must ask, which is more informative: a collection of experiences underscored by social growth, access to original insight and self-reflection, or slightly greater understanding of the course material, which translates to a boost of a fraction of a decimal to one’s GPA?

Tuition at Duke is currently valued at $49,241. Eight courses—even if offered in a variety of disciplines and taught by the most qualified and engaging instructors—cannot possibly be worth that much. As one of my professors confirmed in a recent FLUNCH (a meal with a professor paid for by the university), tuition is so expensive because of what Duke offers outside of the classroom.  

Duke has no dearth of engaging campus events to attend—there is always a chance to learn something new after the 5 p.m. Chapel bells. In Trinity College, where graduation entails a 10-plus-course major and a litany of breadth requirements condensed into a four-year period, and in Pratt, where there is even less academic freedom, students do not have much choice. Tack on a second major, minors and/or certificates, and one has a recipe for four years of academic captivity. The university provides the means for any student to witness new ideas and to develop new interests outside of their defined areas of study; however, one must take initiative to take advantage. For the STEM majors interested in foreign affairs, humanities students curious about iOS application design and the seniors who always wanted to try their hand at spoken word poetry, but never got around to it, opportunities abound for discovery when lecture is over. Academic growth is not limited to classrooms and library cubicles—it also can be found at American Grand Strategy guest speaker events, hackathons and open mic nights at the Coffeehouse.

Yet another opportunity for learning exists in the variety of extracurricular activities, in which one could become involved. Not only do these groups, societies, fraternities, sororities and troupes provide opportunities to engage in new fields, like cooking, hiking, budgeting, literature or improvisational comedy, and help them hone these skills, but they also provide invaluable opportunities for leadership development. By nature, academics are isolating. The sheer amount of work and curricula, which bar collaboration as a violation of the Duke Community Standard, make it so. But, the world requires strong interpersonal skills. The combination of experience and exposure make extracurricular engagement a critical component of a Duke education.

However, most importantly, Duke provides its students with the opportunity to learn from one another. Like atoms confined to a space—whizzing back and forth and in every which way—, we all have the potential to collide. Each collision yields the opportunity for a new reaction, and consequently the transformation of the atoms involved. Just as sodium and chloride atoms react in a specific environment to produce salt molecules, Duke students may interact on campus to produce new sets of beliefs. As unique individuals, with varying ethnic, socioeconomic and intellectual backgrounds, we can challenge each other to learn and to grow, as well as share different perspectives. Yet, such interactions will never take place if one allows his or her studies to have a restrictive effect on his or her college experience. The reaction will never occur if the atoms remain isolated.

I, like many other Duke students, am all too well acquainted with the glare of my laptop screen opened to the Stack Overflow homepage, but lack familiarity with the viewpoints of the vast majority of the student body. Certainly, I could learn net more about the world if I dared to exit the depths of Bostock and engage with new individuals, than I could scrolling through summaries of academic concepts online. This is especially true in the liberal arts education—a tradition which Duke proclaims to uphold in its mission—where viewpoints and interpretations diverge as a result of experience and background. I posit that one could learn more about philosophy passing around a bong with a diverse group of friends than he or she could from memorizing what a single historian considers to be the themes of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in a literary review. Among the 6,909-person undergraduate population at Duke are 6,909 different ways of viewing the world, and it would be a disservice to Duke’s mission not to try to familiarize oneself with as many of them as humanly possible.

Of course, one should still strive for academic excellence, but he or she must recognize the trade-offs. Studying at Duke entitles one to any one of these opportunities to create educational experiences. Ironically, many Duke students neglect these opportunities because they wish to focus on their education. When one makes the decision to spend time in Perkins library rather than attending basketball games, accepting invitations to parties and joining meaningful clubs, he or she is passing up some of the best learning opportunities Duke has to offer—the ones which are deservedly advertised to prospective students, as they are the most rewarding. Let enrollment at our university not be a Faustian pact to neglect the very reasons why we were all so attracted to Duke in the first place. Sacrifice academics for the sake of your education.

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions" runs on alternate Fridays.

Jacob Weiss

Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.


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