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Uniquely Duke distractions

on the run from mediocrity

“Sleep when you’re dead.”

This, from one of my friends as we sat on the floor of my friend’s apartment, getting ready to watch the second half of the Super Bowl. I never watch NFL games, and I didn’t care whether Tom Brady got his fifth Super Bowl ring or not. I knew I should have walked back to my dorm to do chemistry problems, study for my math midterm in four days, do my Spanish reading, maybe even sleep (if that’s still an option). I had big assignments due and tests coming up in every single class, yet I still didn’t make myself leave. I didn’t get into Duke with this little self-discipline.

I came to Duke, first and foremost, for the academics. But once I got here, I found hundreds of other reasons to love Duke that have nothing to do with classes. Random dance parties with people I barely knew who have become some of my favorite people during Project Arts, inventing a new way to bake cookies in Brown’s kitchen at 2 am, or falling asleep to my roommate’s stories that never reach their ending. And I don’t want to miss out on making more treasured memories with the people here who I’ve grown to love. 

But while I wish I didn’t need as much sleep as I do, or that I could earn good grades without a lot of studying, I’m not that kind of person. I need to spend longer periods of time concentrating on my schoolwork than what I have been doing so far this semester. But my constant desire not to miss out on a cool opportunity, meet people in a new SLG or see friends I haven’t seen in a couple of weeks gets in the way.

And while the constant access to the best moments of your friends’ lives through constant virtual connection does contribute, Duke’s culture compounds this issue. Because while there are hundreds of academic resources, there are things that Duke presents as part of the “Duke experience” that aren’t directly related to academics. Price-Palooza, with carnival rides, free food and music, was on a weeknight. Black tenting starts in January and lasts until March, and if you don’t think you have time for tenting (realistically, who does?), you aren’t a true Dukie if you haven’t spent a whole Saturday waiting in K-ville for a basketball game.

Undoubtedly, one of the reasons why transitioning to college is so difficult is because I have to learn to balance doing the extra things I want to do with the coursework that I came here to do. But while I thought I knew how to say no, it has never been easier to say yes. In high school and before that, we go home at the end of the school day or when all of our extracurricular activities for that day are finished. At home with our families, we’re more removed from our social scene with our peers. For me, it was easier to stay home and say “I have to study” when my friends lived a driving distance away and my parents were there to tell me I shouldn’t go out on weeknights.

Now, however, all of my friends are within walking distance or a short bus ride away. And thanks to the glass wall and doors that separate Brown’s common room from the entryway, I can be walking out of the dorm to Lilly and still get lured in by my friends waving at me from inside the common room. It’s easy to let an hour pass “eating dinner” at Marketplace, especially when you’re all the way on the inside of the booth and don’t want to ask the other three people squeezed in next to you to slide out so you can leave. 

I came to Duke with a bucket list of things I wanted to do while I was here. But the more time I spend here, meeting new people and becoming acquainted with activities I hadn’t known about before, the longer and more demanding my bucket list becomes. 

Despite the plethora of distractions Duke offers, I need to become better at saying no to more of them. Every blank wall on campus—even inside bathroom stalls—is advertising events that will only make you more knowledgable, woke or connected. I don’t see any telling me to go sit in Perkins. Yes, I may be passing up a “unique” experience that I’ll “only get once!” but the good thing about Duke is that new “uniquely Duke” activities are always coming. 

I need to start thinking more about how much the quality of my entire life will change based off of watching the Super Bowl. Most times, the impact I convince myself the activity will have—within the three seconds I take to say yes—is a lot less than its true effect if I took more time to weigh my commitment to the full Duke experience along with the requirements to be a strong Duke student.

Victoria Priester is a Trinity first-year. Her column, "on the run from mediocrity," runs on alternate Fridays. 


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