As an expert reporter for The Chronicle, I was assigned to cover Groundhog Day and went to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the story.
My editor, Leah, who was “too busy” YT Campaigning last week to grab lunch with me, booked my delayed flight on Spirit Airlines and my stay in a motel room covered in bodily fluids to report on the annual tradition—which started in 1887. It takes place on February 2, when Punxsutawney Phil either sees his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter, or crawls out of his burrow and marks the beginning of spring.
Every year, consultants at McKinsey & Co translate Phil’s prediction to the public in a national celebration that I finally got to watch. This year, however, Phil saw his shadow and spoke the following bone chilling proclamation to the crowd himself: “There will be six more weeks of Young Trustee Campaigning!”
This terrifying prediction surrounds this year’s annual, campus-wide YT elections, which hopes to find a definitive ranking of the most popular seniors in the class of 2020. Phil made the decision likely because the competition this year has been especially intense; the candidates run in similar social circles.
Accordingly, competition among the candidates has been at an all-time high in their efforts to get mutual friends to join their respective campaigns. A number of the candidates’ close friends were forced to sit out of campaigning since they’d been on the Young Trustee Nominating Committee (YTNC), making the pool of mutual friends smaller and competition for the remaining friends more intense. In case anyone was thinking it, I should note that it’s totally normal and not suspicious at all that YTNC members are close friends with the candidates.
The campaign has become so fierce that one of the candidates pretty much threw in the towel. On Saturday, Tim begged his friend President Price to toss out the vote altogether and just select him. Tim is right to be skeptical of the process; it is unusual for a privileged white male not to get what they want. The reaction likely stemmed from Maryam specifically poaching her hyperactive strategy manager directly from Tim’s fraternity pledge class. Still, perhaps the fiercest candidate is Ibby Butt whose dry English sarcasm has turned into a campaign weapon.
Punxsutawney Phil is well aware of the dire state of the campaign because of his close personal relationship with the YT Candidates. In fact, Phil recommended McKinsey & Co to the YT Candidates, and now every campaign is working with a McKinsey consultant either as a campaign manager or advisor. Punxsutawney Phil recommended McKinsey as the foremost experts in “faking it ‘til you make it,” which he felt was a good fit because that’s most of what a YT Candidate needs to do.
In the aftermath of the proclamation, I spoke with each of the campaign managers on how the candidates would address the longer campaign period. The common theme was that they’d be turning up their campaigns harder, unleashing attack ads, and scheduling lots of one-on-one “get to know me” lunches that, in order to show they’re just regular Duke students like us, they’d inevitably cancel.
I spoke with Leah’s team first about the campaign extension and they said she was making two major campaign moves: turning The Chronicle into a propaganda machine and forcing everyone in Kappa on her campaign to drop to increase their relatability.
Ibby pledged to bus voters in from UNC that he would hide in his second home—First Floor Perkins. He also pledged to buy an endorsement from me at the insistence of both his roommate and his best friend/former DSG president Kristina Smith, who had respectively accepted that all Duke seniors should sell out and subtly break election rules to get ahead.
Maryam promised to form 6,682 new campus identity groups that she’d personally represent as president.
Tim would form two new clubs that borrowed language from the social justice movement: Empower the Men of Football and Students for Fraternity Justice. He also decided to spend the entirety of the $50k he won at his startup competition on the campaign trail.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Most of the attack ads being considered are directed at Tim, too. One proposed attack ad just said, “Tim, he’s white,” which was surprisingly effective in focus groups.
Because the aggressive reactions above were expected, Punxsutawney Phil’s proclamation precipitated complete chaos among the crowd in Punxsutawney while I was on the phone. The town hadn’t seen this much mayhem since the first few scenes of the movie Groundhog Day. Unlike in Groundhog Day, however, endless YT Campaigning is torture for more than just Bill Murray.
These extra six weeks will be torture for all at Duke—and our Instagram followers. Currently, the three leading campaigns are locked in a hard-to-watch ego-measuring competition on who can better represent the selflessness of the social justice movement. Tim’s campaign has been a mess too—he’s differentiated himself by trying to use the word toxic to describe something other than the masculinity in his all-male, majority-white fraternity.
You might wonder why they’re willing to sacrifice so much, work so hard, and monopolize campus life to win this election. Well, their motivations are fairly superficial, and I’ve listed them here:
Leah won an election in middle school with her campaign: “Rock your crocs,” and has since been addicted to winning popularity contests.
Maryam refuses to lose because she’s “championing a cause” and doesn’t want to go through the whole process of bringing in the site of her (and Leah’s) summer internship—The Southern Poverty Law Center in to sue and overturn an election result.
Ibby refuses to lose simply because he knows too much about the other candidates and their flaws.
Tim desperately wants to be voted in because he believes it’s his ticket in to his obsession—the elite, secret Duke Trident Society.
We’re all stuck watching this. Tim might freak out and just do something insane like a 3 a.m. drive to the beach for his “mental health,” Ibby might sarcastically insult everyone around him, Leah might force her boyfriend to fly in, and Maryam might just get drunk and curse like crazy, but all of us on campus are just going to have to deal with it. So let’s try to get used to it.
We should accept that we’ll see a lot of Leah’s quirky earrings and her smart sense of fashion; Maryam’s many coats and her badass attitude; Ibby’s bomber jacket, his well-groomed beard, and his annoying, late night renditions of Disney songs; Tim’s varsity jacket, his comfortable Allbirds*, his closet’s worth of Brooks Brothers, and his can-do personality.
I still had to wonder why Punxsutawney Phil decided to make this life-changing proclamation, so I interviewed him in his burrow on his thoughts on the process. Phil offered the following: “chuck-chuck.”
And thus, the extended winter of YT campaigning has begun; we can only hope to survive.
Monday Monday has not officially endorsed any YT candidates mostly because all of their inflated egos would explode from the pressure.
*This was a paid-partnership with Allbirds whose ads have been harassing my Instagram feed for weeks.