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My hesitation with presentations

If you had to give a twenty minute presentation, right here and now, what would you give it on? I’m sure, as the diverse community we advertise ourselves to be, I would receive a variety of answers. Skittles. Quantum Physics. Furries. The Hubble Space Telescope.  

I…don’t know. I think I would stare at the flickering projector screen considering my options for the whole twenty minutes.  

Don’t get me wrong, I have interests of course. I have hobbies. I have many proud possessions in my “give-me-a-will-to-live” bag. Sure, I could ramble about Harry Potter or Captain America for twenty minutes. But a presentation is more than just speaking for twenty minutes. You need to make a point. You need to make people think. You need to inspire.   

The most common form of presentation students get are lectures. Professors are obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable about their fields. I’ve seen professors stumble over their lectures, jump inconsistently between concepts in a lecture, heck, some even forget to show up to lecture. All lecturers are smart people, but not all smart people are good lecturers. 

Before I even came to Duke, I was strongly advised to take Psychology 101 with Dr. Hard. I was told that the class was interesting, engaging, and not ridiculously stressful (something rarely found with Duke classes). Sure, all of that is true. However, in my first in-person class with Dr. Hard, I wasn’t in awe at any of those aspects. Instead, Dr. Hard never uttered a single filler word (ex. um, uh, like) during her lecture. There’s nothing wrong with using filler words; in fact, we use filler words to help us buy time to formulate thoughts. But I was in awe because I’ve never heard a professor deliver such a well-rehearsed lecture; it made me wondered how well she must have known the lecture’s content.  

You might think, “please, these professors have been studying their fields for decades. Of course, they know the material well.” Well, I’ve read Harry Potter for nearly ten years; I know the books forward and backwards. But I would only be able to give a presentation of recitation, where I stand there and describe important plot points. I wouldn’t be able to create something new from my familiarity with the content; I wouldn’t be able to give a lecture of inspiration.  

Now you’re probably thinking, “Does this person have a life? Why is she so obsessed with lectures?” I’m so fixated on the idea of presentations because I don’t have an answer to the earlier question, which I feel like I should. The earlier twenty minute presentation question was actually another, more abstract and complicated question in disguise: what is your passion? 

As a sophomore, a student who has been living the Duke experience for two years, I should have an answer to this question. Perhaps it’s because I’m always surrounded by ambitious, innovative students who are always thinking of invention and creation, but I feel like it’s a crime to not feel passionate about something at Duke. I wish I was so engrossed, so suffocatingly possessed by something, that if I was requested to conduct a twenty minute presentation on the spot, I could do it.  

I try to comfort myself saying, “Sweetie, don’t worry, all that comes with time and experience.” Yet, I have peers who are stably committed to some concept in their fields, students who live, eat, and breathe Linear Algebra or Jane Austen or Pharmacology. Whereas…I don’t. My hands are empty. Somewhere along the way, my brain switched to autopilot, and I’m just cruising along the tracks, no premonition about direction. So, which one am I lacking? Time or experience? Or is it something else entirely? 

Some people say that this is just the sophomore slump or imposter syndrome. I acknowledge the possibility that I’m experiencing sophomore slump, but this is not imposter syndrome. I know that I belong here, that I have a place here at Duke. Yet, after Duke, I have no idea what place I’ll hold in the real world. I can’t even imagine it.  

I don’t like to conclude my articles with such an unsatisfactory notion, but I don’t want to pretend and preach that I miraculously found my passion last Sunday volunteering for wounded animals or some other cheap, emotional lie. Rather, I’ll put my faith in the future and leave a question for the future-me:  

Hi, do you have twenty minutes to spare? I think you owe me a presentation.


Linda Cao is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

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