Every first year has their thing.
Usually, it’s something they did in high school and really excelled at or some incredible accomplishment. For me, it was journalism.
When I first moved into my sweltering third floor room in East House, I had the typical mix of O-Week nerves and excitement, but I was determined to attend an information session for The Chronicle. I had been an editor for three years on my high school paper, and if you had asked anyone from my high school about me, the newspaper would have inevitably come up. Being a journalist was my identifier in high school, and I was ready to continue that at Duke (along with being pre-med, of course).
I didn’t hesitate to get involved with The Chronicle and was thrilled to land my byline on the front page within the first week of classes. I applied to be a staff writer as soon as I could and eagerly attended every Sunday news meeting in 301 Flowers.
Like many Duke experiences, everything changed during my first spring semester. As an independent watching others embrace their new affiliations, I threw myself into The Chronicle. On a campus where too often our first instincts are to ask someone what selective group they’re in, I was proud to be a part of an established campus organization that everyone knew.
My sophomore year, The Chronicle was especially important to me and became a support system of sorts. Assuming the role as dining and construction beat reporter, I had no shortage of material and felt like I had found my place at Duke through writing or editing stories on major University news. Covering the Allen Building protests that Spring was a hectic but thrilling time. We never knew when something would happen, so in true Duke fashion, we assigned A-Ville shifts.
I was so wrapped up in my articles, my editing shifts and the people of 301 Flowers that I never took a step back to re-evaluate. I accepted the position of Assistant News Editor for my junior year, not realizing that I wasn’t able to commit the time or mental energy and maintain the balanced life I needed after a difficult sophomore year. In early October, I called my mom in tears, and she suggested something that was at the time unthinkable.
“Maybe you should take a step back from The Chronicle.”
I’m not a quitter, and I made a commitment, I thought. But after a few deep breaths, I realized that, as with most things, she was right. Stepping down from my upper masthead position was upsetting, but doing my job had lately been fueled more by obligation than love of journalism. I sometimes still feel like I let down my team—Claire, Neel, Abby and Adam—but they did a fantastic job despite my abrupt departure, and I appreciate their understanding.
The freedom afterwards was almost more terrifying than making the decision in the first place. I had come to Duke certain of this: journalism was my thing. Who was I without it?
Interestingly enough at this juncture, I was still pre-med and realized that I now had the opportunity to explore those interests further. I continued to write for The Chronicle, especially for stories that I thought were important, and still care deeply about the organization and its mission. But it’s not the only thing people know me for, and I’m excited to be applying to medical school this summer.
If I’ve learned anything at Duke and through The Chronicle, it’s that we don’t just have our one thing and we’re more than just what others perceive. Even though I’ll be ending my journalistic career on this paper, The Chronicle was really more of a beginning for me by encouraging me to expand my identity.
Samantha Neal is a Trinity senior. She’d like to thank Emma, Danielle, Ryan, Rachel and Amrith for being such supportive mentors and pushing her to be a better journalist. She'd also like to give a huge shoutout to all of the Chronicle seniors: you are all amazing, talented, driven people that make her proud to be affiliated with y’all.
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