There are a couple of things I want to get off my chest in my last column of the year.
The first is that, like every other column, this one is being written at the absolute last minute. I have been holding this idea in for the last two weeks and have found zero time between then and now to put pen to paper.
Despite that, the way my life has played out since joining The Chronicle has been nothing short of poetic.
For those unfamiliar with the process, you cannot just wake up and decide you want to write for the opinion section of The Chronicle. There is an application process. Along with basic background questions, the opinion editor asks you to submit a piece of writing so that they can evaluate what you might bring to the table. Having never written opinion pieces before this year—my second end of the year confession—I had to come up with something on the spot. Lucky for me, I applied mere days after Beyoncé’s iconic Coachella performance.
Right on brand, I wrote a jumbled, messy, error-ridden column about what Beychella meant for my academic journey. In it, I reflected on my college application process, what drove me to turn down going to Howard University, and the collective black cultural experience I felt was lacking at Duke. At this point last year, I was confused about why I had come to Duke. I wasn’t sure I would stay here long enough to even write my first column.
But, I persisted. I came into my fall semester ready to experience a side of Duke I didn’t see my first year and I hoped this column would help me make sense of my renewed experience. However, I quickly learned that despite my desire for new experiences, Duke would not be changing.
Duke is still a place that openly struggles with prejudice. Duke is still a place where students have to fight for their right to community—even those who win the lottery of rush. Duke is still a place that demands students pay a high price for a meaningful experience. Having realized little had changed in the three months I was away for summer break, I quickly grew exhausted with going through the motions here at Duke. Fed up with what felt like a stagnant experience, I asked all of you where to go on campus when you need a bit of a reprieve.
Since early February, I have been exploring every inch of this campus for an answer. My wandering took me from the corners of the law school to the bushes of the gardens to the common rooms of Trinity dorm, and I have still come up short. I don’t think there is a place on campus where you can truly disappear and evade everything that comes along with being a Duke student.
I was all but ready to give up on my search for an escape, but then she did it again. Beyoncé re-released Beychella, this time on Netflix. Once again I stayed up until 3 a.m. to watch a performance I had seen over twenty times since its debut. This time, I took a different lesson away from the greatest show the desert has ever seen.
Instead of reflecting on my choice of school, I began reflecting on my sense of belonging in where I call home. The conclusion that has stayed constant over the past year—my third confession—is that Duke is not my home. I will only be here for two more years, and when those years are over, I’ll walk away without looking back. What has changed, however, is that I have come to realize that home is not just a place. Home is found in the people who make you feel included. Home is the couch in my research lab. Home is the long walk to the law school library. Home, here, are the small slices of my day that remind me that it will all be worth it when I walk across the graduation stage in two years.
More than that, though, home reminds me who I am and why I left Houston in the first place. Over the past year, I’ve wrestled with a sober reality in front of all of you: Duke is not home. I lost my sense of self and my sense of purpose in the two years I have been here. So now, as I conclude my finals and pack my boxes, I prepare for my own Homecoming in the hopes that three months in Texas will show me just why I sought Duke out in the first place. My final confession, however, is that no matter where I go, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I belong in a place that isn’t my home in Texas.
Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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