For someone who is to receive a degree in English in less than a week, and for someone whose first year columnist tagline was “on the run from mediocrity,” I’ve been especially mediocre at verbally expressing myself lately. I’ve stumbled through senior sendoff speeches, I’ve failed to find the perfect words to express how much my friends mean to me, and now I sit here staring at this Google Doc, hoping to be a wordsmith of similar caliber to my Opinion section predecessors or fellow departing editors. But perhaps this predicament I find myself in is a tragically on-brand summation of my biggest obstacle at Duke and beyond: a painstaking desire to be perfect. When I receive a test back, I go through every wrong answer and think about all of the ways I could have written, but didn’t write, a better, flawless answer that would have received full points. When I eat the fruit and nut mix from the produce section of Harris Teeter, I always pair exactly two dried fruits per walnut to ensure the perfect balance of sweet, salty, chewy and crunchy. All of the clothes in my closet are organized in a color gradient.
I think that sometimes this desire to be perfect, which I’m sure many Duke students can identify with, comes from a desire to simply be loved and admired. It stems from the idea that in order to deserve love, we must first be perfect. In college, I have failed, have missed the mark or have been incorrect more times than I can count. But for all of these failures, the friends I have made at Duke have only shown me more and more love each time. It is from this love that I have been able to slowly begin my process of letting go of perfection.
And by this title, I don’t mean to imply that I have not gained immense academic and experiential knowledge during my time at Duke. Most recently, I have learned so much about vision in Strombus alatus, a marine gastropod, that I was able to write a senior thesis on this topic. When I came to Duke, I could never have imagined that I would have the practical knowledge of experimental design and scientific writing for such an undertaking. I’ve learned about the positive impact of expressive writing on cancer patients. I learned that to get revenge on a rival, Ernest Hemingway came up with a character based on the person in his real life that was so subtly annoying, every reader for the rest of time would dislike him in memory. During my first year at Duke, I even learned how to sail.
I’ve learned how to fail miserably and pick myself back up afterwards. But for all of the times I didn’t think I could pick myself back up on my own, I have been lifted with love. Love is when all you want to do is sit in bed and wallow, but your friend physically pulls to McDonald’s in the BC and buys you a McFlurry to eat with friends they know will make you laugh.
Love is walking into West Union after midnight on a Friday night after the library has closed because you’re looking for another place to study in resigned silence for your upcoming orgo test, but then running into a friend doing the exact same. Love is the comfort you feel when they ask if you want to join and make room for you at the table, because even if you’re missing a night out with friends, you’re not alone.
Love is cramming way too many people into one booth at Waffle House. Love is realizing at the end of the meal that you forgot your debit card, but a friend covering you and telling you not to worry about the three dollars you owe them.
Love is thinking back to when one of your now-best-friends walked you all the way to your third floor dorm room after a night out before walking back to her own room on the opposite end of East Campus.
Love is realizing at the end of your thesis project that the PhD student who has carried you through it used her own grant money to buy your experiment animals and didn’t tell you until six months later when you asked for the grant number for your acknowledgements section.
Love grows stronger in little, messy moments. Love is taking care of your friends when they’re sick, no matter how much you want to physically recoil from the sight of vomit, no matter the time of night. Love is being able to laugh it off later when you know the exact location of the only mop bucket in Kilgo for someone searching for one months later.
Sometimes love demands hard things from us. Love involves hearing a reality check you didn’t want to hear from someone you know only wants the best for you. Sometimes love is what motivates you to share hard truths with someone else. Sometimes loving yourself involves prioritizing your own peace and joy over other people’s expectations. Sometimes looking for love in the wrong places can end in heartbreak.
One of my friends noted that in listening to people, they might not tell you exactly what they’re feeling or what they need to feel better, but if you listen closely to what they do say, you can discern what they need and be a better friend to them. I believe the love I have been shown has made me a better friend during my time at Duke—a better listener, a better receiver of criticism, and better at being patient with myself and others.
The first day I stepped onto East Campus as a Duke student was the first day of Project Arts, where I found friends who so readily love without expectation, without judgement, without reservation that immediately knew I had found home. As I walked with my dad through the light rain across the unfamiliar landscape on that first day, I ran into one of the program coordinators walking briskly in the opposite direction. He didn’t stop to formally introduce himself right then, but he did look right at me, nod and say “You’re in good hands.” I didn’t believe him at the time, but thinking back on the friendships I’ve made at Duke and the amount of growth I’ve accomplished through them, his statement was quite prophetic.
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I have been in good hands through the love I have learned and have been shown through others I have met at Duke. I may not have the perfect words right now to express it, and I may look back at this column and wish I had phrased things differently. But part of loving yourself is accepting where you are right now without resentment or regret, and this has been perhaps my most valuable lesson. So I present my senior column, a perfect example of the mediocrity I have tried to run away from for years, and say that I have loved my Duke experience even if I haven’t found the words to perfectly encapsulate it. If you have love, perfection is overrated anyways.
Victoria Priester is a Trinity senior. She served as an editorial page managing editor for three years after writing her column “on the run from mediocrity” during her first year.