It’s the kind of day a college campus was made for. The sun shines from a blue sky patterned with clouds. New leaves and dogwood flowers splash green and white onto old gray stone. A tour group stands on Abele Quad while Keith and Nugget greet people outside the Brodhead Center. On the Duke Gardens lawn, a family eats lunch by the pond, and a pair of seniors work on their tans on a nearby bench.
Seemingly everyone has come outdoors on April 12, a Tuesday, and the Bryan Center plaza is the beating heart of it all.
It’s a hot afternoon, but cooler in the shade of the plaza’s trees. Hardly a table is unoccupied. Many are laden with computers and books, cups of iced coffee and to-go containers of food. And the sound of voices is impossible to ignore.
One table erupts with laughter. At another, students chat in Spanish over lunch. At others, stories are shared from past nights out and plans are made for future revelries. If you close your eyes it all becomes one great cacophony, so loud it feels almost like a physical vibration.
The conversations blend intellectual musings and small talk, the profound and the inane. At one table, three sophomores debate the ratio of ants to humans on Earth.
“Definitively, Google says that there are 1 quintillion ants on Earth compared to 8 billion humans, so there are 125 million ants per human,” Ahan Kaul says.
He and the others, Chinmay Amin and Kidest Wolde, agree that there are not in fact 1 billion ants per person, a number they’d discussed as a possibility. The conversation wanders, touching on whether you eat spiders by accident when you sleep, then on ant infestations.
“I got ants in my dorm room one time, and it felt like there were some quintillion amount of those,” Amin says.
“You had spiders in your room?” Wolde asks.
“Not spiders, ants,” Amin says. Then he muses, “How many spiders are there in the world per human?”
Throughout the afternoon, the plaza is a whirlwind of activity. Students come and go from the tables. People walk past carrying drinks and food containers and bags from the Duke Stores, a stream of activity that becomes a churning river between class periods. Some of the passersby stop to talk to the students tabling for events and causes—the Wind Symphony’s Viennese Ball; PARE, a program that educates and empowers Latina women who have survived abuse; Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit raising money for a free clinic in Henderson, N.C. Under the trees, students discuss job hunts and summer plans, infusing the whole scene with that heady springtime feeling of impending change.
Against the chaotic backdrop, moments of stillness play out.
Seniors Jadon Kerry and Frank Marinello sit in the sun in their free time before lacrosse practice, drinking iced coffee. Kerry does research for a class paper on paying student athletes and Marinello reads Matthew McConaughey’s memoir, “Greenlights.”
On a swinging bench, senior Noemie Bacigalupi tells a story to Michelle Lauer, Trinity ‘13. Bacigalupi had a difficult semester last fall and would often stay up all night working on campus. On nighttime walks to campus, she sometimes saw groups of deer.
“They were fairly comfortable with people, so they wouldn’t immediately run away. We would just have, like … this stare-down,” Bacigalupi says. “And a lot of the time in the early fall I would see the little babies, and they were so cute.”
Lauer listens. She laughs from time to time but doesn’t yet jump in to speak.
Bacigalupi recalls the way her mindset about those walks changed. She’d tell herself she was walking to see the deer—having to work late was just a “casual byproduct.”
“I’m a big believer, and we’ve talked about this, in the idea of feeling very grateful for little things,” she tells Lauer. “The little amens of the world.”
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Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.