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The Duke buffet

The Optimist

Dear first-years,

You made it! After all of the preparation and packing, you’re here on campus starting your journey as a Blue Devil. I’m sure the past couple weeks have felt exciting, exhausting, and overwhelming. As you’ll discover, those feelings won’t be going away any time soon. Neither will the seemingly endless number of opportunities. But it’s how you take advantage of them that really determines your success at Duke.

Right now, you’re probably ordering your first textbooks, receiving a ridiculous number of emails from the activities fair, learning too many new acronyms, and trying to figure out who might become your good friends. It’s a lot to process while just settling into new place, so I want to share some thoughts that I hope will help you make it through FWOC (First Week of Classes) and excel in the months and years ahead.

One of the best pieces of advice I got to start my experience at Duke was from my Academic Dean. She said to approach Duke just as you would a buffet. On the Duke “buffet,” there are so many “tasty foods” you can put on your plate. The trick is getting just the right portion of the best options available.

How do you know if a food item will be good? Sample it! Fortunately, Duke provides many opportunities for sampling such as the activities fair, volunteer fair, and events hosted by organizations across campus. While it’s easy at the start of the year to get involved, as time goes on, this may require taking a bit of initiative. Often this is as simple as asking a friend who’s participating in something, scrolling through a website, or sending an email to learn more. 

These same strategies apply to your academics. There are so many classes being offered, so start searching by using DukeHub, asking older students, and looking at Rate My Professor. If the class looks interesting, take it! Don’t miss out on following your passions out of concern of “checking off the boxes” of Trinity or Pratt. I promise you’ll get there eventually, but your favorite classes might be the ones that deviate from your expected path. 

One of the Duke Buffet’s greatest assets its amazing chefs. Yes, there’s good food in the Brodhead Center and Marketplace. But I really mean the people who are creating all of the amazing opportunities, specifically members of the Duke faculty. I can’t recommend enough getting to know your professors. For your classes, office hours can be really beneficial to make it through a problem set or get clarity on an assignment. But that’s just the start. Taking a professor out to lunch (which you have $70 for each semester through a program called Flunch) enables you to learn about their research while hearing their advice in navigating your field of interest. In my experience, these connections have also lead to enjoying breakfast at Elmo’s Diner, playing tennis at the Duke Faculty Club, and engaging in exciting political debates. Who knows what yours could lead to?

An important lesson about the buffet is to not worry about how your plate compares to those around you. It’s all about charting your own path at Duke. Comparing yourself to the “effortless perfection,” adds unnecessary stress, something I can guarantee you won’t want. Even though some  might disagree, don’t worry about  how your “plate” looks on your resume. It would be like putting food on your plate just because it’s fancy when the taste isn’t for you; it’s not the best use of your plate space. Furthermore, if you put too much on your plate, you’ll leave some of the food behind or walk out with a stomach ache. It’s better to find the right balance. If you’re following your passions, taking initiative, and getting involved, you’ll be on the right track for success.

It is also important to change up which buffet you’re eating at once in a while, literally. With all that’s going on around campus, it’s easy to get stuck in the “Duke Bubble.” However, whenever you can break out of it, you will be grateful. Some of my favorite things to do in Durham are going to the Farmer’s Market, biking on the American Tobacco Trail, playing games at Frankie’s Fun Park, and seeing performances at DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center). Durham has great food and Southern hospitality, so check out the restaurants downtown and chat with some of the local residents.

Finally, don’t focus on getting the check; really enjoy the meal! In other words, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Your Duke experience will be filled with awesome people, tight-knit communities, and lots of exciting opportunities. At times, it will be stressful and frustrating. You might find that one of the items on your plate is expired or you might slip and drop your tray. But, it’s all about learning and growing as a Blue Devil, and having fun along the way. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?

Elliott Davis is a Trinity senior. His column "The Optimist" runs on alternate Wednesdays. 

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