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My semester of self-discovery

staff note

Waking up in my new, full-size, Megadorm bed on the first day of classes this semester, the first thought I had was, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” My second thought was, “I can’t do this.” Between a sleepy, not quite fully productive summer and a semester abroad where I did a lot of other things besides work, I felt like I was waiting to get back to Duke and start figuring out the rest of my life: namely, what I was going to do with an English major and a vague love of journalism and the arts. And after months and months of waiting to come back to one of my favorite places on earth, I suddenly felt that I wasn’t ready. 

A friend of mine said that when she came back from studying abroad, she felt that the Duke Chapel wasn’t as tall as she had remembered it. When I stepped onto West Campus for the first time in eight months, I had to admit I felt the same way. All around me, campus seemed to be moving at a hundred miles a minute and I was standing still, trying to make sense of it all. It seemed like everyone had a plan — if not a life plan, then at least a plan for the next semester or summer or year. The Chapel, which once excited me with all its possibilities, now just scared me with whether I could live up to its expectations. 

As January faded into February and February into March, that feeling of being overwhelmed didn’t go away, but it at least manifested itself into action, into throwing myself into my classes and my extracurriculars in the hope that I’d figure out what I was doing along the way. If everyone else had a plan, it was time I figured one out for myself too. 

The biggest shock of coming back to campus after being away for so long was not that they redid Mad Hatter’s in my absence, or that 300 Swift is the cool place to live now. It was the realization that being at a school like Duke wouldn’t make my plans work out for me; it was up to me to do that. Even as a junior, graduation seems right around the corner, and with that, the scary concept of finding a job and a passion and a life. And it’s time to start getting ready for that. 

Four years often doesn’t feel like enough time to figure out all my life dreams and goals, but as I’m coming closer and closer to the finish line, I’m realizing that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. Coming back to Duke was scary, but it also reminded me of what I love about this grand old university: writing for The Chronicle and getting to interview passionate, talented people, walking through the galleries at the Nasher and seeing the most beautiful art made out of old Yankees baseball caps — even just sitting in the Gardens and watching the ducks swim by. Duke is overwhelming at times, but it also has shown me what I love, even if I’m still trying to figure out what to do with these newfound passions. Being back at Duke didn’t make the rest of my life fall into place, but it did give me a starting point for how to go about figuring that whole “life” thing out. 

In what is shaping up to be a semester of self-discovery, I’ve learned the value of balance. Of staying up the extra hour to work on internship applications but also taking the time to play card games with old friends. Of not putting off that email that you have to send but maybe watching the latest episode of “Buzzfeed: Unsolved” in the background while you do it. Of watching the Duke-UNC game in your friend’s dorm while frantically editing your assignment due at midnight and submitting it just in time to see us start winning the game. 

So do I have a plan for the rest of my life? No. Do I have a plan for the summer? Maybe. Did I finally figure out where the printer is in my dorm? Yes. Sometimes, it’s the small victories that count the most. 

We at Recess try to be quite the pop culture-obsessed bunch, but I’ve always liked referencing poetry and books more than albums or movies. So I’ll leave you with a quote by one of my favorite poets, Richard Siken: “We are all going forward. None of us are going back.” 

It’s been a long semester, and it isn’t even halfway over. But we must keep moving forward, even if we’re not quite sure where our destinations are.  

Christy Kuesel is a Trinity junior and Recess culture editor.


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