I have a large, soft face and tend to dress like a retired social worker. Sometimes I speak too quietly for people to understand what I’m saying. This is likely part of the reason why, walking to class, sitting in the library and especially at parties, people who need to unspool tend to find me. I used to play a game with myself where I would keep track of how long someone would speak without leaving space for me to respond, letting their words envelop me totally. I call this the Duke student monologue.
At other times, I found myself to be the one who spilled out my problems to people who hadn’t asked. A colleague who I am now close friends with likes to remind me that our first conversation took place on the way to The Chronicle’s open house, on the bus between East and West during O-Week. I told her that I felt miserable, had made the wrong decision, hated Duke already and was seriously thinking about transferring to UNC.
All this is to say: your first year as an adult (and probably a few after that) will at times be crushingly lonely. Add to that Duke’s baffling formal and informal social systems, the sheen of invulnerability most students seem able to project and the jokey veneer of cynicism the rest of us put on, and you have a recipe for periods of profound alienation. You might spend some of your nights pacing around East Campus in the dark, crying on a phone call home.
Do not forget that everyone else will be feeling these things too. At least one other person living on your hall your first year will probably have the wind knocked out of them by: a loved one’s illness, having slept through something really important, a broken bone, an inevitable but still crushing and drawn-out breakup, a radical change in academic program, the realization that they’ve been deeply unkind to at least one person in their life, and myriad other problems large and small! Although you will have your own problems to worry about, you will need to be generous with others, even if it is only taking time to read or listen to their words.
Through your education and connections forged here, you are gaining a degree of power in the world, whether you deserve it or not. People will regard you as someone who has something to add. This is probably not merited. Sometimes it will seem as though the person who is most powerful is the one who can speak the most or the loudest. This is, of course, ridiculous. Don’t forget that being the listener is an important role, too.
I hope the Chronicle will be a place for you to feel less alone at Duke, as it has been for me. I encourage you to listen to each other, in the pages of The Chronicle and more importantly in person, even when it is easier to turn the page, tune out and hurry past.
Frances Beroset is a Trinity senior and the editorial page editor for The Chronicle. Reach out to her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org