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The best and worst four years

Before I started my freshman year at Duke, everyone told me that college was going to be the best four years of my life. I really hope they were wrong. 

During my college career, I’ve experienced a strangely large amount of tragedies. The kind that make you wonder, what else can possibly go wrong?  

In the final days before graduation, as I walk around The Chronicle office where I spent countless hours as a reporter, department head and later editor-in-chief, I’m filled with memories. 

I remember spontaneously bursting into tears three months after my mom’s death as Amrith, the editor at the time, tried to teach me how to layout a print paper. 

I remember pacing the lounge, always filled with crumbs and pillows thrown everywhere, on the phone with my dad as my hometown in Tennessee was burning from forest fires and my best friends’ homes were being destroyed. 

I remember a rare two-hour break from production as my best friends took me to Sky Zone to cheer me up on the one year anniversary of my mom’s death. 

I remember asking my upper-masthead staff to keep an eye on me after I’d gotten into a car accident the previous day and later passed out from residual effects of the airbag hitting my face. 

I remember confiding in staff members, some of my closest friends, about how hard it was for me to see my dad with a new girlfriend less than six months after my mom’s funeral. 

But this column isn’t just going to be me airing my complaints about life. Luckily, I have enough great, supportive friends for that (hi, Maggie and Clara). 

Because the truth is that while my four years at Duke have been the worst of my life, they’ve also been the best years of my life so far. It’s been a study in contradictions, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. 

Despite all the bad things that have happened to me while I’ve been here, Duke has given me more than I could have possibly imagined. It’s the place where I met my best friends, these crazy amazing people whose endless love and support continues to astound me. 

It’s where I discovered my passion for journalism, for telling stories that would otherwise go untold. It’s where I found the one thing that solely belongs to me, that can’t be taken away—my voice. 

I owe most of this to The Chronicle. Being editor-in-chief last year was truly the most rewarding experience of my life. People are amazed when I tell them that I really did love it, even with the long hours, constant criticism and struggles managing the staff. The Chronicle introduced me to some of the most talented journalists I know—Emma, Carleigh, Amrith, Neel, Adam, Sarah, Abby and so many more—and it’s how I got to know our general manager Chrissy, who has been a mother figure in my life during a time when I desperately needed one. 

Duke also showed me that the world is full of options and broadened my horizons, previously limited by my upbringing in a rural Tennessee town with lots of love but little diversity or difference in opinions. 

This school taught me that it’s okay to disagree with others, to speak out in class when I had something to say and to push myself harder than I thought possible. 

I’m not saying I think Duke is perfect. Most of my time here has been spent reporting on everything Duke is doing wrong and working to hold the administration accountable for its actions. 

I think the rate of sexual assault on campus is way too high and that the administration is not doing enough to address it. I think the housing model is broken, though I won’t pretend that I know the solution to it. And I think Duke often prioritizes its desire for more money and prestige over the needs of students. 

But amid all of Duke’s flaws, we often forget what a privilege it is to be here. I don't have the same shining opinion of this school as I did as a wide-eyed freshman, but I still recognize the lessons it taught me and how it helped me grow.

A study that Nan Keohane conducted in 2002 found that women tend to leave Duke with less self-confidence than they began. But in my case, I feel more confident and prepared to take on the world than I ever did before. 

The Chronicle gave me a purpose here and helped me grow into a better version of myself, someone resilient and unafraid. My friends showed me that I am worthy of love and respect. And finally, Duke taught me that it’s okay to be smart and ambitious and outspoken. 

When I first found out that my mom had been diagnosed with cancer, I looked up the expected survival rates for stage four melanoma. One webpage I found said it could be up to five years. I thought maybe my mom would live long enough to see me graduate. 

Like so many other things, I was wrong about this. She won’t be in the audience at commencement cheering me on or get to see me throw my cap in the air. But I know that she’s proud of the person I am now, because I’ve had to fight to become her. 

When I got into Duke, my mom was more excited for me than I was for myself. And when I walk across the stage to get my diploma, I know she’ll be just as thrilled. 

Claire Ballentine is a Trinity senior and Towerview editor. She was editor in chief of the Chronicle's 112th volume. She would like to thank her amazing masthead, friends and mentors for a great four years.

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