Me: “Let’s get dinner this week.”

Friend: “Yeah! Let me check my schedule. I’m free on Tuesdays from 4 to 5:30 or Thursdays after 8. When are you free?

Any time, I want to say. But instead, I furrow my brows as I pretend to mentally run through my empty calendar. 

Me: “Well, Tuesdays are tough for me,”—they’re anything but—“so let’s do Thursday.”

Halfway through sophomore year, this was the dialogue I ran through whenever I tried to schedule something with friends. People were always running off to meetings, dance practice, group projects or study sessions at all times of the day and night. I decided that I needed to do the same. Free time was akin to laziness, and Duke was no place for the lazy.

While this pressure to appear busy was partially responsible for my decision to impulsively fill up my calendar, a larger force was the nagging voice in the back of my head. Former president Richard Brodhead’s voice, to be exact. In his convocation address to my class in 2016, Brodhead said something that has been etched in my mind ever since: “Passive citizenship has no place at Duke. For this place to work, you have a responsibility to participate.” 

Of course, by participation, he meant partaking in deep discussions, asking hard questions, and seeking out mentors in order to challenge truths and obtain a deeper understanding of the world. But as a stressed out underclassman, I interpreted it as: stay busy. That led me to join countless clubs that I had no particular interest in but which sounded cool and intellectual, to take classes only because I thought they’d make me more marketable, and to do research that wasn’t in my sphere of interest because, well, everyone does research.

I quickly realized that the busier my schedule, the more unhappy I was. It wasn’t long before my calendar became the one others had to work around, but despite my efforts to avoid passive citizenship, I had never felt more unfulfilled. My classes didn’t excite me, nor did my extracurriculars. In retrospect, sophomore year wasn’t rough because of the notorious “sophomore slump,” but because I wasn’t doing things for myself. 

It wasn’t until last semester that I began to turn things around. I started working a job that I looked forward to everyday, and I narrowed down my extracurricular involvement to clubs I genuinely enjoyed. In 2019, I want to do more of that. 

Of course, I don’t advocate that you stop attending the classes you find boring or that you drop all of your clubs. Fill your time with what you find meaningful and important. As I start my second semester of junior year, I have come to realize that my time at Duke is fleeting. My four years here will be over in the blink of an eye (no matter how long those late night study sessions in Perkins may seem), and that means there is no time to waste on things that do not bring me joy. I know I like to find creative express myself, so I’ve dedicated more time to writing and creating artwork. And I know I don’t like working in labs, so instead of doing research in a biology Iab, I’ve started researching important problems in policy. It’s a balance that can be difficult to find, but it’s one that I’m slowly beginning to reach.

So, yes, I have a responsibility to participate. I have a responsibility to be engaged on campus. But that responsibility manifests in so many different ways. It’s up to each of us to discover what that looks like.

Alicia Sun is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.