As an alum who graduated in 2009, a recent Chronicle article by sophomore Christian Sheerer entitled "How Duke Breeds Devils" caught my attention. While I disagree with the darkness of the title, the thoughtful analysis and determined call for better action impressed me. Since I've already experienced this same disillusionment, I would like to offer encouragement to those who are struggling to see enough light on the other side of graduation.
Unlike most people at Duke, I coasted through high school without much of an exciting future to look forward to. My parents immigrated from Taipei with only $20 and severe condescension from my dad's remaining sisters, and, three days before starting 8th grade, I was suddenly and unexpectedly uprooted from my education-oriented hometown in Northwest Arkansas and transplanted to a Texan town known primarily for crazy cults and a particularly infamous siege that generated significantly less glory than the one at the Alamo.
At church, the youth pastor frequently invited his favorites to hangouts and sleepovers at his house and ignored 7th graders who were struggling to fit in at school. Then a basketball player at the local Christian university murdered a teammate, and the head coach tried to cover it up. Needless to say, mentorship and role models were in short supply throughout my life, and I felt that life was just a series of nothing.
By my senior year of high school, I had vague notions of going to college because I could effortlessly ace all my classes despite skipping or sleeping through everything other than basketball, soccer and track. All these schools had been sending endless recruiting pamphlets bragging about how they were academically and athletically elite, but a lazy scan through the rankings on US News and ESPN's rankings quickly disproved most of their claims. However, one name caught my attention: Duke.
As a shooting guard, I was already in awe of JJ Redick and Coach K, but I learned more through the pamphlets that occasionally arrived in our mailbox. When I skimmed the Duke one, I saw that the pamphlet mostly talked about what it meant to be a Blue Devil. School. Basketball. Community. Krzyzewskiville. Volunteers. Uganda. Wait... Uganda? While camping out in Krzyzewskiville, students had organized trips to dig wells and provide clean drinking water in Uganda. Duke had all this stuff to brag about, and instead, they want to tell me about what the students were doing?
That sealed the deal.
I wanted to have school spirit like I did as a kid. I wanted to be at a school that would be as proud of me for doing my best as I would be of it. I wanted to feel home again.
Now that I've been an alum for 10 years, I've been able to look back and see a lot of dark moments that bred devils at Duke. But those same moments also saw the best examples of what it means to be a Blue Devil—and that has continued since graduation. Back in Durham, many of you will, as we have since the earliest stories told by the oldest alums I've met, continue to allow others to cry on your shoulders, welcome hopeful applicants when they visit campus, donate to good causes, watch over each other at off-campus parties, tutor underprivileged students, apply for DukeEngage and possibly even wake up Tent 1's sleep-deprived daytime occupant when the Line Monitors call another ungodly tent check.
In fact, just a couple weeks ago, juniors Sam Chan and Vicki Lu led the HackDuke team in unanimously rejecting a major sponsorship from Palantir despite knowing there was no time left to raise sorely needed money and cover the shortfall for hosting 500 participants this past weekend from all over the United States. The commitment and empathy they showed in committing HackDuke's theme "Code For Good" is something that Blue Devils are proud to uphold, even after graduation.
The various alumni communities I've been involved with all volunteer in their local communities. In October, Duke North Texas helped Paul Quinn College, an HBCU that came back from financial ruin under the tenure of a Duke alum, with preparing its on-campus farm to serve a federally-recognized food desert. This coming weekend, alums in Palo Alto will volunteer at a Goodwill to provide counseling and job placement services to young adults. All across the world, many of us are currently interviewing applicants to help form the Class of 2024 and doing our best to help you find a better path into a brighter world when you graduate. What we saw in each other as classmates and continue to see in each other as alums, as well as you students, is what we look for in these hopeful applicants.
Duke isn't perfect, and, just like any other place in the world, will inevitably breed devils. Christian is right in pointing out that unfortunate fact in his article. Keep calling out and protesting against injustices. Keep creating opportunities for those less fortunate than ourselves. As long as we all continue doing that, I know that what I first read about in 2004 will hold strong into the future.
As worn out as you may be with midterms and navigating the real world, I hope that all of you will feel encouraged when you look around at yourselves, your own classmates and even us alums. After all, Duke also breeds Blue Devils.
Scotty Shaw graduated with the Class of 2009.
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