It’s Spring semester of my junior year at Duke and I’m wondering where the time went — not because it’s flown by, like everyone said it would, but because I’m just now gaining my footing. It’s taken me three years to find a group of friends I feel like I can depend on, to decide on the academic path that will determine my future opportunities, to seek out the extracurricular activities that bring me joy — regardless of whether they will impress my future resume-readers. I have ahead of me only two semesters, eight classes and nine-odd months on this campus before my college career is over. I can’t help but feel that just as I’m settling in, Duke is pushing me out.
On my own tour of Duke at the start of my junior year of high school, I remember hearing — and I have said it myself to prospective students on their tours of campus — that here at Duke, you can and should take whatever classes you want. We’re advised to explore our options, to enroll in courses because they interest us, not because they’re prerequisites for a biology class we think we’ll need for our major. And maybe that’s where I went wrong.
At the end of high school, I felt so strongly that I was meant to be a computer programmer that I wrote my Common Application personal essay about my love for coding. When I came to Duke, I was ecstatic that my randomly assigned academic advisor was a professor in the Computer Science department. (That would give me a leg up, wouldn’t it?) I enrolled in all the Computer Science prerequisite courses I could handle during my first year. I enrolled in, withdrew from and re-enrolled in Math 111, all because I thought I should get those pesky math requirements out of the way. And, one Duke Computer Science class later, I realized I’d rather do almost anything else than tinker with code.
After accepting my shortcomings in Computer Science, I began a long process of crossing potential majors off my list. I’d always loved biology, but I didn’t want to work in a lab or conduct experiments on animal subjects. I entertained Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, International Comparative Studies and Cultural Anthropology but found that none of them quite satisfied me.
Last summer I decided to commit, if only because I was running out of time, to pursuing a Visual Arts major. The decision was not without its own internal debate: Who will hire me after I graduate? Is this major rigorous enough? Do I even have the talent to be successful as an artist? What will people think of me when I tell them I graduated from Duke with an arts major?
The potential answers to those questions stopped filling me with fear when I answered the most simple question: What do I want the rest of my time at this institution to look like? I want to enjoy it. I want to be challenged in ways I have yet to be challenged, I want to succeed in ways that surprise me and I want to love every minute of it.
For the first time in my Duke career, I feel content exactly where I am. I am rediscovering my creativity, a part of myself that, somewhere between learning my ABCs and now, I deserted in favor of what I thought were more important and marketable skills. I have learned that enjoyable work and rigorous work are not mutually exclusive; spending hours in the studio drawing from a model is neither easy nor unpleasant. I have no shame when I tell people that yes, I go to Duke and yes, I am an arts major, because I understand that creative work isn’t an “easy out.” I have met staff and faculty at this institution who have become mentors and inspirations to me. I can finally see a path for myself, however hazy and winding.
I am a firm believer in the old adages “you are exactly where you are meant to be at this moment” and “everything happens for a reason.” Yet I can’t help but wonder what my time at Duke would have looked like had I allowed myself the space to explore during my first year. If I had allowed myself to take any of the courses that, when reading the course catalogue out loud to my mother in the car, had excited me, would I have found myself sooner? Would I have had the time to work more intensively on my own project or embark on a semester abroad? Would I have saved myself hours of worrying, frantically Googling what to do with a Computer Science major if you don’t really want to be a computer scientist?
I guess my point is two-fold: One, that the world limits us enough without our help, and two, that it is never too late to find your path. For anyone stuck in a course of study you don’t love, there’s still time. For anyone boxing themselves in, creating themselves in the image of what they think they should be, give yourself a chance. We only get four years here, and they can be remarkable.
Alexandra Bateman is a Trinity junior and Recess staff writer.
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