Dear me four years ago,
Dear Aspiring Blue Devil,
Dear Friendly yet Friendless First Year,
Dear Sophomore in a Slump,
Dear Premed Retiree,
Dear Junior just hanging on,
Dear Duke Employee with a course load,
Dear Senior hating it here,
Can I tell y'all what I was proudest of?
Before I knew what effortless perfection meant, my high school resume. When the realness of friendships was gone, an overcrowded GroupMe to call my home away from home. Sophomore year, when the well to my being was lost, eating dinners before sunset. When the day to day didn’t seem worth the cost, abandoning the premed track. Junior year, when the insomnia wasn’t just a late night snack, good ole daytime naps. When the price of clout became a debt of self esteem, my student employee income stream. Senior year, after the times and the depressive episodes became unprecedented, the sweet mercy of graduating.
When I was an aspiring Blue Devil, I believed college was the prestigious avenue for a Black queer femme with a passion for STEM to break toxic cycles and build generational wealth. My inner child needed to get away from the gaslighting, victim blaming and slut shaming of my hometown. Even though Duke was a mere thirty minutes away, the mythical sanative of Blue Devil Days convinced me becoming a Blue Devil was my only escape.
My orientation week reduced to a directory of vague friendly faces that never became my friends. I tried to be a friendly First Year. I smiled and laughed through the trauma, the triumphs and the trashness of party culture without faltering. I tried to shake the facade after every midterm, after each break, but I was too scared to be present enough to stop pretending and grow as a person.
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Luckily, we’re only expected to grow as Young Professionals in the home of the Blue Devils.
When I hit my sophomore slump, it got too difficult to be “me” and make friends, so I repainted my fake smile and kept laughing like a clown in this bureaucratic circus. I juggled classes and clubs to fill my day because my tomorrow required sacrifices. Like many ambitious premeds, I moved through the track with a rose-colored vision of earning a 4.0 GPA and stacked resume. I fixated on the fantasy of my professional dreams coming true until I ultimately retired. Trapped in a continuous cycle of struggle and sacrifice, I ignored the nightmarish reality of what it took to become a Bright Young Professional Who Can Do It All.
We, the Young Professionals, cultivate resumes, not characters. We sacrifice nutrition and seek out networks. We spend our four years mastering whatever roles it takes to get through each week. The starving student who is hungry for degrees, not dinner. The daydreamer who thrives off power naps and ambition rather than a proper sleep schedule. The anti-social socialite who overcommits to clubs and events, yet always feels alone.
Duke is a distorted realm where stress and instability are normalized and where overcommitment and toxic ambition are romanticized. Even as a premed retiree, I still feel nostalgic about the all nighters that ended with the birds chirping. The semesters where I joined everything, so I wouldn’t feel like a nobody with nothing on my resume. A small part of me wants to go back to the kicks and giggles of the premed track, even though I spent those semesters pretending the sleepless nights were worth it.
We, the Young Professionals, fake it till we make it a reality (or at least realistic line). We remain haunted by an underlying fear that we never will make it. So we are willing to sacrifice nothing, but our wellbeing, to guarantee the next bullet point on our resumes. Fake smiles, skipped meals and shallow friendships almost seem worth it if it leads to success someday after graduation. However, the hope of success someday barely gets us through the day to day of being a Duke student.
Perfectionism and professionalism warp the portrait of our lives as students are encouraged to do whatever it takes to increase the bullet points on their resume. Even if it means reaching their breaking point. Because Duke encourages Young Professionals to aspire to wealth, not wellness. A resume is the tip of the professional iceberg. It hides the darkness of the unhealthy sacrifices required to achieve effortless perfection and overlooks the diligence of passion seeking.
For the juniors just hanging on, remember that this four years is not forever, but it is a long time to wait for happiness and wellbeing. College is a constant path of redemption, regardless of how much time you have left. It’s never too late to try to enjoy your classes and extracurriculars. Tap into your passions and resources and fight for the right to learn and explore as your full self. If redemption is hard, do what you can to make peace and grieve what could have been, so you can be open and ready for what could still be a fulfilling, well-rounded life and career.
We, the Young Professionals, fight our way through bureaucratic trenches throughout these four years to build wealth. To break generational curses. To escape the paycheck to paycheck life. To do whatever it takes to be deemed successful. Only to be sucked into the professional rat race where rest is a revolutionary act.
For my seniors hating it here, Duke is not your forever even if it was your home. Don’t let your life become a landfill of empty dreams and toxic ambition. Ditch the rat race for income. Shoot your shot at making an impact by pursuing a career that feels worth it because it feeds into who you are, provides opportunities and resources to grow, time to rest and captures the heart of your passions.
Rez Williamson is a Trinity senior. Their column, "from 'fine' to finesse," normally runs on alternate Thursdays. To ask them a question about finessing or recommend a topic, submit to this form.