Imagine if during Orientation Week, you were guaranteed your dream job or top graduate school program upon graduation. Duke would no longer be seen as a stepping stone for the future. Instead, every student would have the opportunity to make their Duke experience what they really desired. How do you think your four years as a Blue Devil would differ as a result?
Now that bookbagging for next semester’s courses has begun, many of us are thinking about completing major and university requirements while filling the remainder of our schedules with “easy As.” Though, if you didn’t have to worry about T-Recs and didn’t feel the need to boost your grade, your approach to course selection might change.
Throughout my years at Duke, I have sought to take courses in which I am genuinely interested and let everything else fall into place. I’ve been very satisfied with this outlook, as it has enabled me to learn about history, public policy, and Jewish Studies while being an environmental science & policy major with an economics minor and innovation & entrepreneurship certificate. But if grades weren't of the same level of concern as they are now, maybe I would venture into fields that are farther off from my path such as computer science and engineering. These STEM skills would surely be beneficial.
Once enrolled in the courses you truly want to be taking, consider how your class experience may shift. You wouldn’t have the desire to check the time, scroll through Instagram, or complete the next homework assignment during the lecture. Instead, you would be motivated to focus on the material. Questions would be about interesting hypotheticals and real-life applications instead of “will this be on the test?” or “can you go back to the previous slide because I didn’t finish writing the last bullet point?”
I’m currently in my favorite class I’ve ever taken at Duke: “Candidacy to Congress: Campaigns, Policies, and Politics.” There was one assignment I spent nearly 40 hours completing, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. With classes like this, late nights in Perkins are because you didn’t want to stop working on an assignment rather than starting late because of procrastination.
With your academics no longer revolving around grades, co-curricular experience would be considered just as valuable as classwork. Duke offers an incredible array of seminars, speaker series and networking opportunities. However, it’s easy to get caught up in studying for a midterm or exhausted from a long day of classes that these programs sometimes fall by the wayside. Yet, the education we receive outside of the classroom can be even more impactful than that which takes place inside the classroom. Over a span of just two months, three former government officials—U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, presidential chief of staff John Kelly, and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe will have given talks on our campus, not to mention well-renowned entrepreneurs and advocates. Attending these types of events could become the rule instead of the exception.
Most appealing of all, you could manage your schedule how you really want to. Spending time with friends, participating in fun activities and going out wouldn’t be contingent on having crammed the entire preceding week. Instead, you could decide when to have fun. You would not dread returning to your work. Your stress level would significantly drop once you knew you could handle everything on your plate.
All of these changes have been predicated on being assured of post-graduation plans. However, they don’t have to be. Choosing interesting classes, eagerly engaging with the material, participating in exciting programs, and striking a better work-life balance are all within our capacity as students. It just requires a change in thinking.
It comes down to a very simple question that is incredibly difficult for us to answer: why are we here? I believe many students see Duke as a vehicle to reach what is to come after graduation. Whether they are planning to obtain further education or enter the workforce, the focus is on leveraging the Duke brand and diploma to fulfill these goals. Getting accepted to top graduate schools and employment opportunities is very difficult, thus it makes sense that students want to do everything they can while at Duke to make these distinguished achievements their reality.
Nonetheless, this approach misses out on what I believe college is all about: academic and personal growth. In order for this to occur, we can’t simply check off the boxes of an undergraduate education. We have to follow our passions while going outside of our comfort zone. We need to have meaningful experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. We should set aside time to participate in the unique opportunities that only Duke can provide.
The famous writer Mark Twain once said “don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” It might not be possible to be assured what life after Duke will look like for each of us, but I still believe we would all benefit greatly by heeding this advice.
Elliott Davis is a Trinity junior. His column, The Optimist, usually runs on alternate Fridays.
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