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‘Where there is grief, there is deep love’: Student commencement speaker Sabrina Maciariello on appreciating impermanence

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

When Sabrina Maciariello received an email in March 2020 that she wouldn’t be returning to Duke to finish her senior year, that cliché became almost mockingly obvious to her.

For Maciariello, appreciating the little things she had at Duke wasn’t something she often did as a student. She recalled how in reflecting on herself five years ago, she saw “a young woman constantly overcome with the need to do more.” She hoped that when someone would ask her what Duke was like, she would be able to rattle off the awards, internships and other accomplishments she received.

But now, she knows her time at Duke was about so much more than her achievements.

“By living in anticipation of answering that question, I neglected to give the smaller moments the appreciation they deserved,” Maciariello reflected.

After her time at Duke ended, it wasn’t the accomplishments she grieved. It was the times with friends in Perkins Library, the collective groan whenever “Closer” by The Chainsmokers would come on at an event and the view of the Duke Chapel whenever the C1 bus turned onto Chapel Drive.

And after seeing a quote on social media that read “Grief is just love with no place to go,” she decided to give it somewhere to go. 

“I mourned the loss of the moments I took for granted, yes, but I smiled at their reflections as I looked back at them in my rearview mirror.”

Maciariello stayed in Durham, got a job and worked on healing and moving on. She would walk the East Campus trail every evening at sunset and let herself truly grieve the Chapel view, Perkins laughs and the awful three minutes of “Closer.”

The best way to appreciate what you have

On March 26, 2021, Maciariello’s brother died unexpectedly at the age of 18, an event that she said precipitated a period of grief in her life that “defies description altogether.”

“At each new stage of your life, the universe will cyclically give you new opportunities to prove to yourself that you truly learned, internalized and mastered the lessons from the previous ones.” 

Maciariello recalled “kicking [herself]” for weeks thinking of all the quarantine time she spent in Durham grieving Duke instead of going home to her family because she didn’t want to leave Durham behind. She spent time thinking of all the memories she could have had with her brother during those months—months she’ll now never get back.

But to her own surprise, she found that there were also many moments of gratitude.

“Where there is grief, there is deep love—I learned that lesson for the first time.”

Over the last many months, Maciariello said, the collective grief experienced by the Class of 2020, was in a way, unifying.

“We taught ourselves how to cope in the midst of instability and how to create our own senses of closure. And that shared experience of overcoming personal difficulties brought another way that Duke has bonded us together.”

She went on to summarize what ending senior year early, the loss of her brother and her reflections of all the little things taught her: “The best way to appreciate what you have is by truly and deeply appreciating its impermanence.”

She called on members of the Class of 2020 to hold those special to them tightly whenever they share a space together “with love and appreciation, not fear.”

“Because if this pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s to be thankful for the privilege of living our lives, especially as we sat inside and watched millions of people lose theirs.”

She called on the Class of 2020 to reflect on the adversities, accomplishments and all the moments that brought them to where they are today. She reminded them that this moment is “your opportunity to truly relish in the full glory of what it feels like to walk out of here in a cap and gown”—a moment many probably didn’t think they’d ever get.


Leah Boyd | Editor-in-Chief

Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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