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Being brave, Duke and beyond

Graduation is a week away and everyone keeps telling me the same thing: that the real world is a disappointing place, cramped with crowded subway commutes and crushing expectations and occasional heartbreak stirred in with bills that have to be paid on time. 

I don’t want to arrive there just yet. I won’t let college be reduced to a series of Instagram posts or squished into three lines on my LinkedIn profile. Not yet. 

Right now I want to sit back on a picnic blanket and take in the amount that I’ve learned—that we’ve all learned—and smile as widely as I can. 

After all, once we leave here will be no reason for future Duke students to know that in earlier days East Campus didn’t have air conditioning, and that we once had to swipe our Duke cards in order to get into a building instead of tap them, and that the Brodhead Center for Campus Life was once called West Union. Who will be here to remind them? 

It hasn’t always been easy, though. The expectations of attending Duke exerts a near constant pressure on us. Duke is founded on the essential concept that our education is meant to prepare us to be successful. To lead instead of follow, to innovate and to ask hard questions of the world and then find the answers without breaking a sweat. And if you don’t, then something is irreparably wrong with you. Often it seems like there is a message ingrained within every lab notebook and beneath all that manicured grass: You are not good enough.

I hope that my writing this semester has shown it doesn’t have to be like this always. We can search instead for magic, or little love stories which seem to bloom in every corner. Together, we can take a deep breath in, and then let it out. We can find home in unexpected places. We can show up and listen to each other. We can let each other in on secrets. We can admit when we don’t know the answer. 

A lot of things at Duke try to pass as normal. The work hard, play hard mentality. The mindset that you must take the well-paying job over the teaching job you love. The idea that we can treat housekeeping staff and contract workers with less dignity and respect than other Duke faculty and staff. The general sense of apathy about what’s going on in the world beyond athletics and memes.

It’s easy to go along with these without stopping to pause and think. 

That’s when we’ve got to lean in and be brave.

I hope that Duke has taught me over the last four years to do exactly that: to be brave. To bravely stand up for others.To bravely tell people I love that I love them. To bravely work for justice for all people. To walk as bravely as I can through hard times and to bravely decide to believe that it won’t always be that way. 

The bravest thing I did at Duke wasn’t the time I boarded a plane nervously to a new continent, or raised my hand in class to disagree with the professor. It wasn’t writing this column, or applying for a job I wasn’t qualified for.

The bravest thing I did at Duke happened on my second day as a student here, the same day that I said goodbye to my parents and twin sister right before they pulled away from campus. I had to go directly to my group advising meeting with my college advisor, and I was such a wreck that I had to stop to sob in a bathroom stall on the second floor of the Allen building. The thought of being here without them was so overwhelming that I wanted to just skip the meeting altogether and hop on the next train back to Charlotte. 

That’s not what I did, and I’ll be forever glad. 

Being brave looks like showing up to a meeting with wadded-up tissues in hand. Being brave looks like not being afraid to take up space. Being brave looks like making sure you are heard. 

Now, it’s my, and the Class of 2019’s turn to leave all of the people and places we are comfortable with at Duke and start out on a brand new journey. I plan on leaving this home in the exact same way as the first time I had to leave home: tearful and completely overwhelmed. 

But, Class of 2019, we already know how to be brave. It’s because of the lessons we learned here and the people we met along the way that I think—I know—we’ll be just fine.

Janie Booth is a soon-to-be-alumna who would like to thank everyone who pushed her in the direction of bravery. Keep at it: she’s going to need all the help she can get.


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