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Words from the wise: Class of 2021 graduates offer advice to younger Blue Devils

The Class of 2021 experienced it all: after sailing through two and a half years of normal, in-person college life, the pandemic forced them to make the abrupt switch to online classes and virtual job recruitment. Uncertainty plagued the first half of their senior year, but things began to look up as graduation approached, with the increasing availability of vaccines and relaxation of restrictions. The Chronicle asked four members of the Class of 2021 to share what they learned from their Duke experiences. Here’s what they said.

What would you say to first years at O-Week who are just getting their bearings in this huge new place?

Sam Chan: Don’t panic if you don’t find your circle right away, and don’t lose hope if you don't feel like you have a super close knit friend group. Eventually, you can build that. I was involved in a lot of different circles in freshman year, but I felt like I didn't have a community per se. I think I definitely developed that more in sophomore year.

Jordan Hepburn: Keep the friendly, open spirit that everybody has at O-Week for all four years. I straight up told a stranger, “I love how quiet you are in the library,” and now they're one of my closest friends. Those really random, really small interactions can really build up to really beautiful friendships, if you just allow them to.

Lydia Lin: Just being willing to take whatever is given to you is really important. I know a lot of people who came in absolutely set on being pre-med or being a lawyer. A lot of them ended up changing completely. Someone who I thought was 100% going to be a doctor  is now going to law school or to become someone who works to influence policy.

How would you recommend spending time outside of class?

Hepburn: Everybody has to do their share of research. Everybody has to do some work or some project. But I think it's so important to do something that you're either passionate about or really enjoy, because the other stuff will burn you out if you don't have something that recharges you and refreshes you. You may be able to even make the hobby productive so it can be something that assists you in your career. Whatever activity that it is that you want to do, you definitely should do it. Try to find some time for it so that you can keep your batteries charged. 

Lin: I'm more of a nature person. Having the Gardens open such a blessing. Just grab a blanket, sit outside, hang with your friends and have a picnic. Having ‘me time’ is also important. I've been picking up drawing and things like that to decompress. 

How did you balance academics and extracurriculars?

Lin: I'll admit going down the pre-med path and being so busy with all these commitments can be challenging. I couldn't go to as many hangouts as I wanted to, but I still feel like I was still able to build solid friendships. The main advice is, just be really organized. Google Calendar or any scheduling app is very essential. Also, try to avoid procrastinating, and if you do procrastinate, procrastinate by doing other homework. 

Gabrielle Zegers: I think for me what helped was really reflecting on why I was doing what I was doing and what importance it carried to me, to others around me, and in the grand scheme of life. You might not know the answers right away. But I think exploring that and being ready to accept those answers is important.

What is something you wish you could have done or known more about before you graduated?

Chan: I think one thing I definitely could have done more was reach out to Duke alumni. The Duke alumni network is there for a reason. From what I’ve heard, a lot of alumni are willing to reply to you if you reach out to them and talk about recruiting things, or their job or whatever. 

Hepburn: If you anticipate needing to learn how to do something in the future, don't wait until senior year to figure it out. For example: knowing how to cook and drive. Very practical skills, right? You'd be surprised by how many seniors can't cook. I have a license, but I don't drive that much. But it would be very helpful right now if I knew how to do both of those things. Try to start learning those things so that when you graduate, you won’t have another barrier to be efficient in the workforce.

Lin: One thing I regretted was not going to more Downtown Durham restaurants before the pandemic started. I missed out on all this good food. Rose’s is good. All the M restaurants are good. Really take the time to enjoy the things around you.

Zegers: I kind of recognized that I was a little bit of a workaholic before the pandemic. And I realize now there's definitely things I want to do again, like taking the one to two hours out of the day just to leave time aside for any random occurrences that happen, so that I can be more available to people.

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