“Sorry, I’m just a little nervous. This is only my second phone interview,” I told my interviewee in October 2015. I felt my heart pounding in my chest. “Don’t worry about it, just take a deep breath and ask your next question. You’re doing fine,” he assured me.
I’ve got a riddle for you, and I promise it’s one that you’ve never heard before. It goes a little something like this: A Duke first-year goes to the East Campus Activities Fair seeking to be part of everything Duke has to offer, but can only sign up for one student organization or activity. What is it?
There may be multiple acceptable answers, but I’m just here to tell you about the one that I came up with. Coming out of high school, there weren’t many activities that I knew I wanted to try at Duke, but let’s just say that I wasn’t going to go another four years without giving my campus publication a try. And at every turn and juncture these last four years, The Chronicle has given me a front row seat to more people, places, issues and moments throughout my little block of Duke history than I ever imagined were possible for a student like me.
I still remember the days when I would sit on the sofa with my grandfather Charles (rest his soul) and tell him about all of the people I’ve interfaced with during my Chronicle adventures, from new deans of Divinity, Pratt and Fuqua to Doris Kearns Goodwin and David Rubenstein to dozens—if not hundreds—of Duke faculty, staff, and students spanning all departments and majors and from all corners of the University. If he were still around today, I’d tell Charles about the time when I interviewed Sylvester Williams, a Durham mayoral candidate on the eve of the biggest political race of his life, or Rodney Wynkoop, who sat down with me to reflect on 29 years as director of the Chapel choir and retired with 580 concerts to show for his service to the University. But these are not the only stories I remember vividly to this day.
I remember the tears in my eyes after I interviewed Ashlyn Sanders, Graduate School ‘15 (MA in Bioethics and Science Policy), who overcame her neurological disorder to become the CEO of her successful startup, NeuroVice. I remember the thrill of witnessing a group of protestors storm the Sanford School on the night of former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson’s address to the American Grand Strategy program at Duke, and telling friends and family all about my adventure the following day. And no matter how old I am, I don’t think I’ll forget my excitement as I typed this lede:
“The ground floor of West Union will open Monday for the first time since July 22, 2013…”
But in addition to all of these interesting “dinner party” stories, the Chronicle gave me an avenue through which to write about topics I was passionate about—topics that had great implications for the future of the Duke student experience. After a trying sophomore fall, I went on to write about the manifestations of and available resources for combatting the “sophomore slump”—an article that I hope will go on to benefit Duke sophomores of tomorrow.
Another issue I was passionate about was housing reform, and thanks to The Chronicle, I had the opportunity to speak with campus administrators and student leaders of Duke Students for Housing Reform (DS4HR) alike regarding the issue of tangible, long-lasting housing reform on campus. Two springs ago, when faculty across all departments came together to discuss Trinity curriculum reform at monthly Arts & Sciences Council meetings, I was there too, sitting in the front row of that Rubenstein or Westbrook auditorium as key stakeholders debated decisions that might affect thousands of Duke students after me.
In one very special case, a story that I covered for The Chronicle went on to shape the future of my Duke experience for the better. In September 2015, I covered the very first Duke Conversations dinner ever hosted by a regular faculty member. I enjoyed the experience so much that I had to go to another one. And another. And another one after that. Now a student organization on campus, Duke Conversations has gone on to host hundreds of similar dinners with faculty across all departments—with yours truly as an outgoing executive board member.
And then there were “fun stories”—usually born out of wild and crazy imagination, like giving up one Saturday afternoon to count all of the cars in Blue Zone or devoting my junior spring toward the sampling and ranking of sixty-five Brodhead Center dishes; gauging student reactions to fads like HQ Trivia and Pokémon Go and interviewing Klaus Teuber, the founder and creator of Settlers of Catan; and sitting down with a current student who invented a Weasley clock replica (I’m really gonna miss Duke) among so many others. Ever wondered why they call Duke’s yearbook “The Chanticleer?” Yep, I wrote about that too.
During my time with The Chronicle, there wasn’t a topic I couldn’t have written about if I wanted to. And with the bustling, stimulating and ever-changing world of Duke University at my fingertips, I wrote about all subjects, all disciplines and all kinds of campus happenings that meaningfully affected the student experience. In fact, half of the fun for me was that I never really knew what my next story would be about.
But each time, I secretly hoped it would open my eyes to a new corner of Duke that I had yet to explore. More often than not, I got my wish. Being part of The Chronicle was one of the greatest investments of my Duke career, because as far as I’m concerned, it made me a part of everything.
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Rob Palmisano is a Trinity senior who will graduate with a B.S. in Economics and Finance before going on to work as an equity research associate at Raymond James in Atlanta, GA. He plans to return to campus very soon to reunite with his Duke family.