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Thanksgiving: Blue Devil edition

the optimist

As we return from Thanksgiving break for the final week of classes, it’s easy to get wrapped in all of the assignments and tasks that need our attention before we head home for Winter Break. We were temporarily withdrawn from the craziness and commitments of being at Duke to spend time with family and friends, only to return to Duke a couple days later to work our way through the home stretch of the semester.

Yet, this set of events overlooks a crucial task, one that we just spent an entire evening eating delicious meals surrounded by loved ones participating in: giving thanks. Despite our instinct to return to our busy routines, it’s important to stop and think about the amazing opportunities we each have as Duke students that bring us here in the first place.

First and foremost, our university provides us the ability to learn and grow. Whether we came into college knowing exactly what we wanted to study or we didn’t have the slightest idea, Duke enables us to explore a variety of disciplines. In my past three and a half years, I have taken courses in 17 different departments, and I’m thankful to be at a liberal arts school which offers this extent of academic freedom. Duke offers so many academic programs, course structures, experienced professors, and supporting resources which contribute to our success every day. Through seminar style classes and Flunches at The Commons, innovative educational engagement has become our reality.

Beyond the classroom, we’re fortunate to be at a university with so many “institutes,” “programs,” and “opportunities” that we’re paired with Directors of Academic Engagement just to help us navigate them. From hearing former U.S. Secretaries of State and U.N. Ambassadors to receiving funding for conferences and internships, we are provided a unique level of access through Duke to what is going on beyond our Gothic campus walls. Whether through volunteer positions in Durham or across the globe through DukeEngage, or by studying abroad on one of the hundreds of DukeIn or Duke Approved programs, students can go experience the world for themselves. I’m thankful to know that if there’s something I want to pursue, there’s something or someone at Duke that can help me make it happen.

I remember when visiting as a prospective student, one of the things that appealed to me most was the combination of students’ passion and ambition with their collaboration and community. I’m thankful to have become friends with amazing students coming from such a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, hoping to contribute to the world in their own unique ways. A Duke experience is like a roller coaster, with exciting highs, challenging lows, and everything in between. It’s worthwhile to look back and acknowledge the people who have been there with us—and for us—throughout the journey. 

Take a second to consider what makes Duke special for you. Would it be the screaming voices in Cameron Indoor as a Blue Devil makes a buzzer beater to win the game or the late nights in KVille during tenting season which preceded it? Would it be the beautiful Chapel that towers over us as we walk through West Campus or the peaceful forested area preserved right behind it? Would it be the themed dinners and Midnight Breakfast in Marketplace or the delicious taste of a customized pasta bowl from Il Forno? Would it be the O-Week gathering with our Blue Devil horns in the lacrosse stadium or the celebrations on LDOC as a given year comes to a close?

More importantly, how often do we get to stop and think about these incredible experiences and appreciate the memories we’ve made. Personally, I realize I haven’t done so nearly enough. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I hope to change that.

I want to make an important distinction: being thankful does not mean creating a mirage of perfection. We don’t gather with our families and friends for a turkey (or tofurkey for my fellow vegetarians) dinner pretending to be flawless; this wouldn’t be genuine or realistic. Nor do I think we should let praise become a rationale for complacency here at Duke. Rather, I believe we should be grateful for the extraordinary people, places and opportunities we’ve gotten to experience as Blue Devils as we recommit ourselves to forging a better university for years to come. 

We only have a couple weeks left before finals are finished and we take a break from our lives at Duke. But before we do, let’s take a couple minutes away from our hectic schedules to remember this: we’re fortunate enough to be at one of the best universities in the country surrounded by some of the world’s brightest minds. We not only have the opportunity to contribute our “knowledge in the service of society,” but to have an enjoyable college experience and to meet fantastic people along the way. Although we’ve finished our 2019 Thanksgiving dinners, let’s give thanks as Blue Devils as we continue on our journeys at Duke.

Eliott Davis is a Trinity senior. His column, “the optimist,” typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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