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In the face of a crisis, Forever Duke takes on new meaning

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I looked around the table at each of my friends, not quite surprised but somehow still in a state of disbelief. We had all been expecting President Price’s email announcing the end of in-person classes at Duke and the indefinite transition to online classes given the closures of universities and schools across the country.  Still, reading the announcement in writing had confirmed not only the end of our classes this semester, but—for the most part—the end of our time as students at Duke University. 

I am sure seniors across the country can relate to the unique sadness that comes with the cancellation of what was supposed to be the final chapter.  On the grand scale, what we are feeling is minor when compared to those currently suffering from the illness, those who have died, and those who have been left to grieve. Our pain amounts to a fraction of that felt by the many who will suffer immense fallout from the breakdown of social and economic normalcy as we have known it.  For the students who do not have resources or a stable place to return home to, the early ending of this school year holds even more uncertainty. I understand that the impacts of the Coronavirus outbreak on my life thus far have been far less consequential than those felt by much of the world, but they are not inconsequential. To me, and to many college seniors around the world, this feels like a big loss.

When I arrived on campus in 2016, Duke didn’t quite feel like home. I cried after the freshman welcome picnic on East Campus. It was a beautiful, sunny day, not atypical of most days in North Carolina, and I was petrified of the uncharted future that lay ahead. Would I make any friends among this swarm of strangers? Would I be able to find my classes on the first day?  Would I be homesick?  Later that semester, I cried on the steps of the Divinity School after getting back my first Computer Science 101 exam. Was I smart enough? Was I good enough? Why did they ever let me onto this campus? For so long, the perfectly manicured grass (pursued relentlessly by the Duke Administration, I would come to learn), the stately and sky-reaching Gothic buildings, the endless arches and pathways… it all felt so foreign and new, so very un-home-like.  

Today, it is the thought that I might not get another chance to cut across one of those manicured lawns, or to walk through those arches with the people who have become family, or to learn about the world, myself and everything in between inside the walls of those beautiful Gothic buildings that brings a tear to my eye. 

The final semester is a rite of passage for Duke students. It is a time to truly appreciate living amongst so many wonderful and uniquely talented individuals. It is a time to say goodbye to chatting the day away on the BC plaza’s swingy benches and to commiserating over late nights in Perkins. It is a time to dance to terrible music on Wednesdays at Shooters and to run into half the university on the Devine’s patio on Thursdays. It is a time to wear the best blue and watch our basketball team chase that coveted sixth NCAA championship. To meet with cherished mentors and learn new things. To visit the Nasher, attend lectures by esteemed speakers and to present theses. To enjoy being in the corners and spaces on campus that may not make the front page of the brochure but have come to mean the most to us. It is the time to hold your best friends tightly and to be truly grateful for the final few weeks of sharing a common home before we find ourselves dispersing across the country and across the world.  

It was supposed to be a time of lasts—our lasts.  Our last class period, our last Old Duke, our last a cappella rehearsal, our last student performance, our last dreaded walk from Blue Zone, our last LDOC, our last glance at the iconic Chapel, our last… All these final moments have already happened, and I can only look back wishing that I had soaked in each one just a little bit more. 

I am hopeful that this pandemic will come to an end as soon as possible and that the broken systems which magnify crises like the one we are now facing will be improved. I am hopeful that  the sick will be healed and that financial security for those most in need will be made available.  Selfishly, I am hopeful that I will get the chance to wear a cap and gown and graduate with my best friends in the place that I can scarcely imagine not calling home. I hope we will all have a chance, in some way, to say a proper goodbye to each other and to the extraordinary place that has meant so much to us. I am so proud and so grateful to be Forever Duke, even if our forever came a little too soon. 

Alicia Porile is a Trinity senior.

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