The independent news organization of Duke University

A safe haven

senior column

It hadn’t hit me until I went back. 

About a month after Duke canceled in-person classes, I returned to campus for the first time to get a prescription for an immunocompromised loved one. As I looked up at the Chapel from afar, I bawled. 

Before this, I can count the times I’ve cried in the past year on one hand.

It had finally hit me: senior year was really done. I’d never get to go back to Duke and live my last spring the way it was supposed to be. In that moment, my teary eyes moved down from the Chapel to 301 Flowers. I’d never get to go back there, either. 

After only writing about other people for years, it’s not super comfortable to write about myself, much less about me crying. Here we go. 

I cried because The Chronicle has been a safe haven for me in times of trouble. It’s much more than a news organization: it feels like a family. 

Last spring, I was emotionally abused for months on end. I didn’t tell anyone about it, which in hindsight wasn’t the best move. It was embarrassing and very uncomfortable for me to talk about. But the nearly three very long afternoons and late nights a week I spent in 301 Flowers kept me kicking. It was my safe haven. 

I was doing what I love: writing and reporting while getting to clown around with the rest of the office. There’s something about playing baseball with a stuffed “foxtail” as a bat (Thanks, Nathan), dunking on a five-foot hoop or even keeping up with the campus gossip that kept a smile on my face. 

The Chronicle was also a safe haven for my adrenaline-seeking. I missed the thrill of gameday from high school baseball, and somehow, pressing buttons on a laptop replaced that for me, even though that wasn't what I thought I would get out of The Chronicle.

When breaking news situations happened, I jumped on them. When the explosion in downtown Durham woke me up last spring, I threw on a t-shirt, got in my car and went to the scene, walking as close as I could without the police telling me to leave, trying to talk to people who were nearby when it happened. Another time, I chased a biker about a half a mile in 90-plus degree weather when I thought he had a lead on a story.  

The Chronicle also was a safe haven to make mistakes—and learn from them. One of them that mortifies me to this day was at the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh two years ago. I was in the media scrum around Grayson Allen for an interview when a TV reporter asked me to hold his microphone for him so he could shoot video better. Happy to help, I obliged. 

I had been told to get the mic close to his face, so I got it as close as I could. And knocked his front teeth, mid-interview. I turned red and Grayson laughed, confused. Thankfully, I haven’t hit another interviewee in the mouth again. 

I’m so grateful that The Chronicle enabled me to cover five presidential campaign rallies in the past year alone and for basketball, sending me all over the country and to press row at Cameron. It’s a privilege very few student newspapers around the country can provide and one that helped me follow my passion for sports and later political reporting. 

What has astonished me most about The Chronicle is how it is also a safe haven for selflessness. It has been incredible to watch how many people put so many hours into making this paper happen every single day.  Without their selflessness, I probably wouldn’t be wanting to be a professional journalist after graduation like I am now.  

People sacrifice their free time, their sleep and other obligations to make The Chronicle what it is, which made me want to do the same even more. It stoked my passion for journalism, at the cost of work-life balance at times. But who needs balance when you have one thing you love?

I was constantly in awe of how Bre, last year’s editor-in-chief, managed to stay up until 4 a.m.—often later—then go to class early the next morning and still be ready for production that afternoon. Without these sacrifices, The Chronicle couldn’t be what is today and I wouldn’t be as motivated to be a journalist as I am now. She always inspired me to work harder and kept our whole team going with her infectious enthusiasm and caring for others.

She made The Chronicle the warm and welcoming environment that it is today, and I know all of us are very grateful for that. 

Let’s keep The Chronicle like this for generations to come. They need their safe haven, too. 

Ben served as managing editor of The Chronicle's 114th volume. He is happy to be done writing this because writing about himself sucks. From the V. 114 upper masthead team, he’d also like to thank Nathan for his constant enthusiasm, Isabelle for her dank memes and hilarity, Shagun for making the climb and keeping the office fun, and Lexi for her art and attitude that brightened everyone’s day. He’d also like to thank Amrith for humbling me by tearing my first story to shreds and being a great leader and inspiration, Hank for being a fearless leader in sports, Jake for his dedication to making The Chronicle better, and Stefanie for being a great meme editor. Also, for the last time, Stefanie, you’re fired. It’s in writing now. 

On a more serious note, if you fear you may be a victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit

Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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