In the packed Cameron Indoor Stadium on an already humid Wednesday morning, sweat was pouring from first-year students.
Despite the heat at the Class of 2022 convocation, President Vincent Price gave a new take on an old adage, telling students they shouldn't sweat the "big stuff."
“The big stuff isn’t always a great guide—it can even lead us in the wrong direction,” Price said. “Focusing on what we do rather than on who we are, on some of our accomplishments rather than on our own innate talents and gifts, can make our successes less sweet.”
Price addressed the University’s 1,753 newest members alongside fellow speakers Christoph Guttentag—dean of undergraduate admissions—and senior Kristina Smith, president of Duke Student Government.
In this digitized era, Price said that overcoming “inevitable bumps” becomes harder due to the prevalence and pervasiveness of social media. To Price, apps like Instagram and Snapchat add to the delusion that “everyone else is succeeding beyond their wildest dreams, is living a perfect life of flower crowns and matcha lattes and pale pink wallpaper.”
Instead, he advised first-years to be themselves and reject the “false standards of perfection or high expectations” and recognize that adversity and challenge are actually important lessons.
Price also ensured students that, no matter what may happen, they will have the full support of professors, classmates and the residential staff. He pointed to the banners that hang from the ceiling of Cameron to note that most were for team wins—not individual athletes.
“It’s no wonder that one of the most common statements that we hear coming out of postgame interviews is 'we’ll take it one game at a time'—by not sweating the big stuff; by taking our minds off that big prize at the end of the season and focusing instead on the here and the now,” Price said.
Finally, Price warned students against becoming so “caught up in life after Duke” that they forget special moments, like late-night conversations about politics or Spikeball games on the quad.
“If we’re focused on the endgame, we tend to overlook the beauty of the little moments along the way,” Price said.
Smith emphasized community in her speech, discussing her own time at a retreat called Common Ground, where participants discuss important aspects of their own identities. She said that she viewed East Campus as the first-years’ “own version of Common Ground.”
“Living in the same room with or maybe on the same hall as people who are unfamiliar will be your first glimpse at learning to value the people of this university,” Smith said. “It is how you treat this chance—the chance to get to know those who are totally different from you.”
In his own remarks, Guttentag highlighted some outstanding first-years, including some who are national art champions, who are in the “50 high schoolers to watch” list and who have even created their own language. He then discussed how the new students were chosen among the tens of thousands of applicants—and that academic credentials had little to do with it.
“We didn’t expect you to be perfect,” Guttentag said. “Perfect is kind of boring. Imperfect and striving is a lot more interesting. And if there’s one thing Duke students are, it’s interesting.”
First-year Binisha Patel shared her thoughts on joining the Class of 2022.
“I feel really honored to be here,” Patel said. “It’s a privilege to be at Duke. It’s kind of an out-of-body experience. Dean Guttentag’s speech made me feel really special.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.