I am a month away from graduating and concluding the most transformative four years of my life. It fills me with equal feelings of fear, excitement, and deep sorrow. My last year and a half were nothing like I expected, and gave me even more appreciation for the memories I made at Duke. It was a grueling, complex experience that I will have to learn how to move on from. But for now, all I can do is reflect and reminiscence. This column is a collection of memories from my time at Duke that hold a special place in my heart.
- O-week banter
During Orientation week (O-week), hundreds of first-years were packed into buses and shipped to Durham Convention center to listen to the author of our summer reading book, Richard Blanco, speak to us. I was with my newly made friends, on the bus ride home, chatting and goofing around. A first-year girl who was observing us asked me, "Did you do theater in high school?" to which I responded, "no, I’m just gay." My friends cackled and I smiled to myself, knowing that I did not have the confidence to make that joke a week prior. The rest of O-week was filled with equally silly moments of bliss.
- Backyard to the Main Quad
I treasure so much of my first fall semester, especially the late night conversations with my friends on random weeknights, that ended with me walking from Blackwell dorm back to my room in Brown. I was so happy on those walks, at 2am across the quad, since I felt the freedom of adult life and the leisure of being a teenager. One particular night, I stopped in the exact center circle quad outside Marketplace, and took in all of my surroundings with a deep breath. I felt more at home than anywhere else.
- The Dancing Queen
In addition to the tranquility of casual hang-outs, many of our first semesters are defined by chaotic nights out when our social batteries were overridden with energy. As a self-described socialite, I love nothing more than meeting new people and dancing my failed chemistry test away. One wednesday night at Shooters I was celebrating my latest midterm, and Dancing Queen by ABBA came on. Invigorated by the timeless classic, I asked my friend if she wanted to perform a lift. After she agreed, we locked wrists and I grabbed her ankle, and I began to spin her around me right as the chorus hit.
- First Love
As a member of my dorm house council, we had decided to make Valentine’s Day goody bags for employees on East Campus. After distributing them, there were a few leftovers that we did not know what to do with. There was a guy in the dorm that I had been hooking up with, who also happened to have a car. We volunteered together to deliver the goody bags to employees around campus. It was a fun little adventure as we spread our Valentine’s Day cheer to strangers, stealing kisses at red lights. A perfect first date.
Spring Break of my first-year I embarked on the frigid expedition of ProjectWild March trip, in my first exposure to backpacking and an incredible community of people. At the end of the trip, we huddled for warmth around a crackling fire, singing in unison with the deafening silence of the forest around us. I felt at peace, transcending the worries of life, and connected to people I had met only a week ago.
- The Arts Dorm
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My time as a Resident Assistant in Pegram, the designated performing arts community, was not always an exciting job, but observing the trials and triumphs of first-years was always memorable. I was returning home one evening and two first-years were seated at the piano in the common room after a long night out. The guy was serenading the girl while playing the piano, and I tip-toed past to not interrupt their main character moment. It reminded me that a new class of first-years were beginning to make their own special memories.
- Snow day sophomore year
In the December of my sophomore year, there was a luxurious snowfall of 6 inches. With the other sophomores in my selective living group, we dressed in snow gear and fun onesies to build snowmen, throw snowballs, and ignore the approaching finals season. After a long semester of being isolated as an RA on east, this moment made me finally feel connected to people in my class. I also had not seen much snow in my home state of Texas.
- Black Balsam Knob
Before going abroad my junior fall, I staffed the ProjectWild pre-orientation backpacking trip, a 10-day excursion into Pisgah National Forest. One morning, with my crew of adventurous first-years, we woke up early to hike up a nearby peak to watch the sunrise. We got the top and sat in anticipation, whispering to each other in excitement. When the red edge of the sun emerged from the horizon, we all went silent. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life, and I felt humbled by my place in the world.
- Drag performance at Mirecourt Rush
Returning from abroad, I helped out with recruitment for the selective living group I was in, Mirecourt. We have a karaoke-themed event we do each year that involves dressing up as music icons. Two of my gay friends and I decided to dress up in drag as Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, and Jessie J. We walked in with faces full of make-up and hilarious outfits, and performed lip syncs throughout the night, ending with the masterpiece “Bang Bang.” I was happy to show first-years that queer-inclusive spaces did exist within pockets of the Duke community.
- UNC gameday
On UNC gameday last year, none of us realized that it would be our last Duke game, and our last social event on Duke’s campus. It was a beautiful sunny day, and thankfully we got to burn the bench after all. After the festivities, I was exhausted, and separated from my tent, but I found a few friends who were headed to Chicken Bee, the Korean Fried Chicken restaurant. There we ate, alone in the restaurant, the most heavenly meal I have ever experienced. Adele’s “Someone Like You” came on the radio, and we all paused in between wings to sing along.
It is hard to remember what campus life at Duke was like before the pandemic, and I am sure that everyone had vastly different experiences. I am happy to leave behind the endless studying, competitive atmosphere and policing administration. I do hope to remember the moments that made it worth it, even as they seem so distant from the lives we are currently living. What is at the center of these dear memories are the people I have met at Duke, who can still be in my life after graduation, and are the reason I will always think fondly of my time at Duke.
Nathan Heffernan is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.