The independent news organization of Duke University

There's a hundred and twenty days of summer vacation

There’s a hundred and twenty days of summer vacation, and school comes along just to end it. So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it. Like maybe…

Building a website or fighting for social change or climbing up the corporate ladder. Discovering something in a research lab or coding a 16-bit adder. Surfing LinkedIn, creating Excel sheets or locating abnormalities in a mouse’s brain. Finding a doctor to shadow, painting campaign signs or driving our own selves insane.

While Phineas and Ferb boasted of their 104 day long summer, with enough time to “do it all,” Duke appears to have an even longer one this coming year. We finish this school year at the end of April and begin the next one on August 29th. 120 days to be exact, almost four months of summer.

At first, this seems great. But, being a Duke student, there’s always the pressure to do something productive when left with more than a week or two of free time. An extra long summer means extra pressure to do something impressive, something to put on your resume, something from which you can glean useful anecdotes.

I never realized how much I would take the lackadaisical summers of my youth for granted—before even beginning work last summer, I saw the first software engineering internship applications posted for summer 2022. And it seems like some economics-related careers finish recruiting in the spring over a year before the internship happens.

So now I see, not only can we not enjoy the school year for fear of finding something to do in the summer, but we can’t even enjoy our hard-earned opportunities because of the anticipation of whether there will be something else, something better the next summer. Why enjoy today, when you can maybe enjoy tomorrow more?

I realize not every subset of Duke students care quite so much about what they do for the summer, but I sure haven’t met many. At this point it seems better to have an unenjoyable, underpaid or even exploitative gig rather than portraying the appearance of not doing anything. This is especially toxic for underclassmen, for whom getting a meaningful internship is most difficult—although least necessary for eventually getting a full time job.

It’s so hard to realize that it’s okay not to do anything, or to do something personally interesting instead of purportedly productive. But this realization is a byproduct of hindsight and quite hard to internalize from hearing someone else who had the luxury of doing something “productive” with their summer say it.

And thus, we push our enjoyment off into the future, as if an impressive internship is all it takes to be happy. If only this were the case—but I imagine the hedonistic cycle continues in full-time employment, what with the possibilities of gaining a promotion, a raise or even a company change, because that’s what everyone else is going to be doing, and posting it all on LinkedIn.

While I won’t get into my qualms with the concept of networking, LinkedIn is another beast entirely. I especially dislike the “internship reveal post,” through which students can flaunt the extent to which their connections, privilege and luck has afforded them an opportunity. It’s all the more important to do something impressive when everyone will see it and subconsciously compare you to themselves and to everyone they know. From the beginning of fall, feeds are filled with “I’m so excited to announce…” posts ad nauseum. And who cares what these companies actually do if they have that name brand luster?

While a common refrain in Phineas and Ferb is “carpe diem,” or “seize the day,” it seems like Duke students would rather seize tomorrow, disregarding short term happiness and mental stability for the possibility of looking impressive and being successful later. This is the last time of our lives with as much freedom to try new things and solely focus on enjoying being a student. But the promise of a shinier tomorrow proves more tempting.

This is not to say that doing something with your summer is bad. Even if you realize that a career path isn’t for you, at least there’s the chance to figure that out early. And there’s always the possibility of discovering a new passion by doing something out of your comfort zone. But, the immense pressure to be productive makes it more about getting anything at all instead of doing something interesting or relevant.

If only we had the freedom of Phineas and Ferb to spend the summer doing whatever we wanted, whatever was interesting, with no thought as to how it would look on a resume. From FDOC, it’s a race to acquire a summer activity as fast as possible, because then you can finally relax and enjoy the present. But until then? Nope, there are applications and interviews and prepping and networking and comparing and hoping.

Even when we do find an opportunity, there are dozens more we are giving up. With only three summers nestled between our four years of college, it’s impossible to participate in everything. With internships, research, volunteering, taking classes, studying abroad and more, it can feel like an optimization equation to find the combination of activities wherein you lose the least. 

Unlike Phineas and Ferb, we can never “do it all.” But, we can do our best to enjoy the present as much as possible and to find something that is personally meaningful instead of professionally impressive to do in the summer. It’s so difficult to live in the moment, but we have our entire lives to work and only four years of college. It is not worth it to spend so much time stressing about the summer, especially when it’s over half a year away.

Heidi Smith is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays.


Share and discuss “There's a hundred and twenty days of summer vacation” on social media.