Around this time three years ago, I boldly declared that while college was great, I hadn't really learned a whole lot. After one year of Duke, I felt like I knew everything—I knew only grad students went to Shooters on Friday nights, I knew that the C2 would usually pull away right as I got to the bus stop after running from Science Drive to try to make it to my next class on time, and I knew to never get stuck in the Vondy line in between the end of your 1:25 and the start of your 3:05.
I had also navigated what I thought were a finite set of struggles limited to the first year of college. I dropped out of classes, failed exams, embarrassed myself in front of guys I liked, suffered through rush, and ultimately realized that at the end of the day, none of that stuff was really all that important. I had been incredibly lucky to find a group of friends I connected with and who were there to witness, support me through and participate in the chaos that was my life. With their help, I made it to the end of my first year at Duke in pretty much one piece, prompting my declaration that everything I’d learned in the classroom, including two semesters of Arabic, didn’t really mean much compared to the lessons I had learned about myself.
As my first year rolled into my sophomore year, I thought I had it all figured out. At this rate, by senior year, I expected I’d be an unrecognizable superhuman, breezing through life at Duke with no problem at all. I’d answer everyone who asked me how I made it all work with the words of the feminist icon herself: “What, like it’s hard?”
Unfortunately, I think both Elle Woods and my first-year self would be a little bit disappointed in me right now. I’m currently a lot more like Warner than I am like Elle—graduating without honors, without a relationship and without a full-time job. Despite all that I’ve learned about myself over the past four years, on some level, it feels like I failed. I feel like all the good things I’ve fought so hard to learn over the last four years are all about to slip away—that as soon as "diploma.pdf" lands in my inbox, I’ll be back to square one. I have a 12-week summer internship, a messed-up knee, and not a whole lot else. I can’t imagine a post-grad future in a new city or with a new job. I can’t look for apartments near my future office or figure out how often I’ll be able to see my friends. I’ll be in my parents’ house, measuring time by how long it takes before I can get off crutches and out of a brace and how long it’s been since I’ve submitted job applications. It feels like all of the truths of the last four years are about to disappear. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing for the Chronicle, it’s that the truth is never impossible to find—you just have to look for it.
Duke is a tough place. It is well documented in this newspaper and countless other places that universities, particularly this one, can be relentlessly unforgiving. Duke literally coined the term “effortless perfection,” a nefarious concept that remains alive and well on our campus, even in the middle of a pandemic. Not only that, it’s been a tough year. The arrival of spring has made the 13th month of March 2020 feel like basically no time has passed at all. The air is heavy again—both with pollen and with the relentless suffering and sacrifice that have become a feature of our daily lives.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from journalism is that sometimes, when things get tough or confusing, the best thing you can do is sit down and compile the truth. It can be harder than it sounds—emails go unanswered, sources avoid tough questions, office phones go straight to voicemail, people you thought were friends lie to you. But that’s the great thing about reporting and about life: the facts are out there, you just have to find them and figure them out, regardless of what other people put in your way.
I’ve spent the last four years figuring out facts about myself: I require at least three cups of coffee to even think about becoming functional in the morning. I get really nervous before making phone—something I’ve learned is difficult when your career path requires frequently calling a lot of strangers on the phone. I use too many em dashes when I write. Duke basketball hype videos make me cry. (A lot of things make me cry.) My favorite study spot is on the second floor Bostock bridge, even though you can never find a seat there. I have been so unbelievably lucky during my time at Duke.
No matter what comes my way after graduation, I will hang on to these facts because they are true. The truth is increasingly hard to come by these days, and I am so thankful to everyone who invests their time and energy into making The Chronicle the organization that it is. I am so grateful to have found this space that values the truth.
And the most important truth of them all? You should probably delete Tinder. I always had way more fun with my friends.
Ann Gehan is a Trinity senior. She would like to thank Jackson and Leah for taking the first chance on her as a columnist, for their patient edits and for helping her become a meme. She would also like to thank the tens of devoted Dirt readers, most of whom are related to her or are her close friends, Trey and the ad staff for coming up with subject lines to accompany her terrible jokes each week, and Chrissy for her endless positivity and support. She is incredibly grateful to David Graham and Bronwen Dickey for helping her realize that there were more important stories to be told than her own. Finally, she would like to sincerely apologize to everyone who has sent her an email in the past four years that she never responded to, which, unfortunately, is a very large group of people.
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