“Hey, how are you?” “Good, how are you?” “Good, thanks.” How frequently do you have this conversation each day? I’m guessing at least a dozen times. But, how many of those times do you say how you really are? I’m guessing not too often.
Amidst the craziness of classes, clubs, meetings, and recruiting, we become so focused on just getting from “A” to “B” in time and completing the items on our daily to do list. As a result, we don’t often get the opportunity to think about how we’re feeling and why. Even less often do we share this with the people around us.
Think back to Orientation Week before freshman year. You probably remember some of the people you met, getting your first taste of being a Blue Devil, and being exhausted by the seemingly endless sessions. One of these was called “True Blue,” during which you saw a fellow classmate demonstrate that he or she had no idea the size of a standard drink and watched students act out various situations you might encounter throughout your Duke experience. While it may have easily been overlooked at the time, this session taught a critical lesson: it’s okay to sometimes not be okay; the people around you are also struggling, but you can work through challenges together.
I’m guessing all of us are familiar with the concept of effortless perfection. It’s when someone you know seems to balance taking five classes, being a leader in a half dozen clubs, has their summer plans all set up, and somehow manages to go out each weekend. It seems they have everything together. But, once you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize they share some of the same struggles you are experiencing. So many students are overwhelmed by their course loads, stressed out by their extracurricular commitments, uncertain of their future plans, and dealing with issues among their social circles. Yet, when we’re asked how we are, the almost certain answer remains: “good.”
I’m not saying I don’t fall victim to this; I do. But, whenever I break out of this routine to share how I really am, I’m glad that I did. When I express that I’m dealing with the passing of a loved one, people have consistently expressed their condolences and support. When I say that I rocked my last admissions tour or led a fantastic conversation about religion and politics, people are proud and share in my excitement.
Offering these bits of information can help strengthen your friendships, but also help you move through the “highs” and “lows” of any given day. Being authentic can be one of our greatest strengths. I believe that most members of the Duke community genuinely care about one another. But, how can we really be there for one another if we don’t know who could really use some support and encouragement?
Your closest friends may already know what you’re celebrating, working on, or recovering from. I understand some of these things are personal, and you might not feel comfortable sharing them. That’s why a good first step is simply being honest about how you are feeling. Maybe the person you’re talking to will congratulate you on your achievement, console you in your challenges, or ask you more about what’s going on. You could even find out that the person you’re talking to is experiencing similar highs and lows. These interactions are healthy and necessary, but also relieving. You can be honest with the people around you. Even more importantly, you can really support your fellow Blue Devils by taking the time to show you care.
Andrew Carlins, a sophomore, launched an amazing program to facilitate students supporting one another. In September, Andrew started “Kindness Grams,” packages containing a handwritten note, Kind snack bar, and small gift. Anyone can send an email to to request a Kindness Gram for a friend, and it will be delivered to them without costing the sender or receiver a penny. Andrew has tabled at the Bryan Center Plaza with the Wellness Center asking students to write a note to a friend which will be part of a Kindness Gram for them.
When I spoke with Andrew about Kindness Grams, he said, “Kindness and authenticity are easily relegated to the bottom of priorities at Duke, in light of evergrowing mounds of work and other commitments. Yet, at the same time, they are things that make us human.” When I asked him about the origin of Kindness Grams, he explained they stem from his learning and working with Duke Wellness, Duke Authenticity Project, Residential Life and Peer for You.
“With the support of the Wellness Center, and the Kenan Institute, we have been able to turn this idea into a reality. Together we hope to create opportunities for meaningful engagement amid the stresses that come with being a Duke student,” Andrew concluded. As the recipient of a Kindness Gram myself, I can attest to the warm feeling one gets from knowing a friend was thinking of them and took the initiative to express it.
There are so many ways to brighten someone’s day. Say hello to the person you see on the C1 who you haven’t talked to since freshman year, ask they how they are, and show interest in the answer. Text a friend who told you they had been studying hard for a midterm or preparing for an interview, and ask them how it went. Even smiling as strangers walk may bring them joy.
As Duke students, we each have a lot on our plate: some things we love doing, some not so much. Genuinely supporting those around us and being ourselves can yield so many benefits. I think we would all do well to renew the idea of “being true” and “being you” as conveyed during True Blue.
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Elliott Davis is a Trinity junior. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays.