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My 'Why Duke?' essay worked out

We all remember our “Why Duke?” essay. It’s the first time most of us are asked to reflect critically about ourselves in relation to this University.

When it was time to write mine, I didn’t waste words on DukeEngage or the basketball team. I knew what I wanted to say.

As a kid from Durham, I was frequently on campus growing up. What I recall most vividly from those visits is picking up issues of The Chronicle and reading about the Duke community. In one issue that stands out in my memory, there was a massive graphic on the front page tracking the social connections between Young Trustee semi-finalists and members of the Young Trustee Nominating Committee.

Wow! Students were doing that work, I thought. It was so cool. I wrote in my essay that I knew I wanted to get involved if I got into Duke.

But as many Durham kids will tell you, we don’t always look up to Duke as an institution. For a long time, I couldn’t see myself coming here, a place where the rich send their entitled children to trash the city.

My simplistic aversion became complicated by my positive experiences at Blue Devil Days, but I still felt there was some truth present in that feeling. I knew that if I did attend Duke I would want an opportunity to be able to ask hard questions about it.

The Chronicle was that opportunity. But during my four years on staff, it helped me find answers to questions I hadn’t anticipated: Who are your friends? What do you like to do? What is important to you?

To be sure, I did relish my on-the-job education in journalism. I was empowered by amazing leaders as a young student to talk to important people and investigate whatever (sometimes silly) things I wanted. But with empowerment came humility, as I made many mistakes early on. I was reminded that just because I asked a lot of questions and felt confident, I didn’t necessarily always get my answers right. I also learned that the important people I should be asking questions of aren’t always in the Allen Building.

As I spent more and more time with The Chronicle staff, I began to feel at home. Our core group of committed news writers grew closer as friends, which was a comfort to me as someone who felt lonely at times.

The turning point that drew me in for good was the Allen Building sit-in. Sparked in part by the amazing accountability journalism I love, the week-long sit-in had the news staff frantic. We were up in the office and out on the Quad constantly—drafting, editing, posting—trying to stay on top of the always-evolving story. I was incredibly stressed, but it was a stress with purpose. And it was a stress that forged strong friendships.

That week, I also learned about how to tell stories digitally, something I hadn’t anticipated learning or even wanting to do. Ultimately, it was useful preparation for the Digital Content Director role I held for the next two years.

Sometimes, I don’t think people outside The Chronicle understand how much work it is for the top staff. My junior year, I was in our office four days a week, usually from 4:30 p.m. until we finished production. Getting back to my apartment at 2 a.m. wasn’t unusual.

But I loved every minute of my time as a member of upper masthead. We were a team with a mission.

Claire was truly a fearless leader and she taught me so much about how to handle difficult situations (and people) with poise. She always accomplished what she set out to do and I still look up to her.

Neel was a tough managing editor who asked hard-hitting questions and wasn’t scared to disagree when necessary. Yet his sharp mind shouldn’t obscure his heart of gold. As news editor, Abby took on a massive role and executed it flawlessly even as she somehow worked in a lab and studied for the MCAT. I don’t know how she did it but she amazes me.

Sarah is one of our strong moral voices, and she also never fails to make me laugh at all the beautiful strangeness we observe as reporters. She has become one of my best friends and is one of my favorite people.  

When our team was together and responding to some breaking news, everything felt right.

It has been hard to take a step back and let go after we passed off running the paper to the next masthead. Seeing the work Likhitha’s team accomplished has been so exciting though, and I am thrilled to see what Bre’s team will do.

My newfound free time has brought space for reflection: did the questions I had for Duke matter? I’ve definitely learned a lot, from how nuanced and complex the world can be, to how valuable clean prose is, to how important it is to push hard and stick up for yourself.

I hope the reporting, editing, social media-posting and strategizing I have done in my four years has had an impact on this place. But even if it hasn’t, I know it’s had an impact on me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

If I had to give any advice based on my time at The Chronicle, it would be to keep asking questions. And whether yours are more “Why Duke?” or “Why, Duke?” I hope you find some answers. At the very least, I hope you find answers to questions you didn’t think to ask. 

Adam Beyer was The Chronicle’s digital content director. He’d like to encourage people to be gracious with Chronicle reporters who really just want to understand this place they call home. He also has a lot of thoughts about college that didn’t fit in this column. If you’d like to hear them, please reach out.

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