As a senior who hasn’t tented before, this tenting season was my last chance to endure the frosty temperatures, complain endlessly about how much I don’t want to sleep in a tent tonight, and forge friendships through a shared suffering. As ludicrous I think tenting actually is, here I am, a K-Ville resident.
Tenting is the least productive activity I do, but it also takes the highest priority. At the beginning of the semester, I had allocated time on my weekly calendar to go to Wilson and pursue personal electronics projects, both of which have now been woefully neglected. Yet, I go to my tent shift more punctually than I attend class, and even structure the rest of my day around it.
And it’s just as difficult to do work in the tent as I imagined. While I realize how unwise it is to reserve some of my work for my tent shifts, I do it anyway. I’ll arrive to my tent shift, sit on the floor on a pile of pillows and sleeping bags, and eventually get a little too comfortable. The drowsiness hits, and I ponder how nice a nap would be, and besides, my shift doesn’t end for another 2.5 hours. I don’t bother to set an alarm, and next thing I know it’s gotten cold and dark and I don’t want to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. Well, I guess I’m browsing my phone for the next hour of my shift, and my Biophotonics lab report will have to wait until after dinner.
I’ve heard from people that if I tent, my grades will drop, or at minimum I will struggle to maintain the same level of grades. Unwilling to test the veracity of those claims, I put tenting off until senior year. It did seem quite unappealing to do an ECE110 problem set in the dark, with my fingers freezing, or to do my programming assignment for ECE250 with my laptop battery draining in the cold and no outlet to charge, or to go to class tired after having been woken up multiple times in the middle of the night for tent checks. To be fair, it’s difficult for me to judge how difficult it actually is to do work in a tent, because as a part-timing senior, I now have little work to begin with and no sense of urgency to avoid procrastination. While many have no issue excelling academically while tenting, I think it would have been quite stressful for me had I tented in previous years.
I’ve also heard from people that college grades don’t matter as much as high school grades, and at first I believed them. After all, when I got to Duke, I thought to myself: I’ve made it; courses might be challenging, but competing against other Duke students, average will be a decent accomplishment in and of itself. This isn’t saying I didn’t care about my grades—I had an underwhelming first semester, and tried a little bit harder each following semester to bring my grades up. The success of my efforts was quite limited, but in the process I didn’t let myself tent because I wanted to have better grades.
It wasn’t until end of sophomore year when I realized how untrue that “grades don’t matter as much” actually was. After fall and spring recruiting seasons rolled around, many of my fellow sophomore friends had internships. Wanting the same, I spent countless hours applying online to various internship postings, and received more rejection emails than Piazza notifications. Wondering how my other friends did it, I soon realized a common thread among them: they all had GPAs higher than 3.9. Mine wasn’t even close. I realized how difficult it was to stand out amongst the hordes of qualified individuals: juniors seeking internships with more classes and experience under their belt, with the added bonus of able to receive full-time return offers, as well as the sophomores who, like me had little experience, had higher GPAs and demonstrated that they were hard-working enough through their grades. My grades were mediocre, I didn’t have any desirable skills, and, well, I wasn’t competitive. It was a harsh reality. Having passed on tenting twice, I was confused… I didn’t tent, but my grades that semester looked like I did.
In my junior year, I finally figured out how to study, and wasn’t going to let tenting get in the way of my new upward trend, and again, passed on tenting. Senior spring rolled around, now only one class from graduating, and at the point where grades no longer matter, I was finally ready to tent.
Tenting is both enjoyable yet miserable, and I’m glad I finally decided to tent. I realize that obviously the Duke-UNC game is important, but it’s also about the process getting there: the mutual endurance of black tenting, where we can barely fit ten people in our nine-person tent; the sawing and hammering to build an over-engineered platform for our tent; and the conversation I’ve made with the people in my tent that I’ve seen around for years but haven’t talked to. But of course, most everyone knows this already; it isn’t some groundbreaking revelation. I do wonder what other experiences and friendships I might have developed had I tented in my other years.
Who would win in a fight between Zion Williamson and my GPA? What a silly question, and there’s no real answer unless I’m able to peek into alternate universes where numbers can also play basketball. But as an intellectual exercise, had I tented the first three years of my college career, my GPA might have taken a hit like Syracuse’s Mark Dolezaj did against Zion Williamson.
Martin Li is a part-time Pratt senior and part-time tenter. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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