As I graduate from Duke, it feels like I can’t remember much from 4 years ago. And one thing I can’t remember at all now is my former fear of dogs. I anticipated that Duke would attract a lot of dog owners and I did my best to avoid them. Walk briskly by them. Hide behind others if I had to. I just felt too nervous if I saw a dog—I couldn’t take the chance. But then I met Nugget during my first ever summer at Duke. As I was walking to Wilson Gym getting ready to bench press 150 grams, I was greeted by an overly enthusiastic Keith and Nugget, standing outside, ready for pets from every Duke student. And as I moved in and out to pet Nugget intermittently, I noticed that Nugget was unlike other dogs. She was energetic, she was smiling, but most of all, she was friendly. I felt nervous of dogs because I thought they were trying to attack me, but when I first pet Nugget, she didn’t bark. She didn’t leap on me. She just smiled and panted happily. She was just happy to see me. Happy to see everyone. Keith kept reassuring me that Nugget wouldn’t bite me. And he was right.
I quickly leveled up from pet novice to dog aficionado. I took turns with feeding Nugget treats, watching her leap across the lawn, and asking Keith as many questions as I could about her. When do you take Nugget to campus? [Right after classes] What are her favorite things to chase? [Apples, Tennis Balls, and Squirrels] Where’s Nugget favorite spot to be on campus? [Wherever the students are] I truly realized how magnificent of a dog she was. She could eat an apple in 60 seconds. She never got tired of students’ pets. And she could brighten up any student’s day. When I moved away from North Carolina during the pandemic, I didn’t feel disconnected from Duke because I was away from the gothic architecture and toxic fraternities, I felt I was away from my friends, including Nugget. So much so that I dedicated my first ever website project to Nugget. And I knew that once I got the opportunity to return to campus that I would spend time with friends, connected with the Duke community.
And so I did once I arrived. Nugget became hope as I reconnected with a college campus which I felt distanced from. I remember one of the first activities I participated in was a party at Gilbert-Addoms and not only saw some old friends, but met new ones as well, as we all bonded over petting Nugget. Of course, things got busy soon after, but I could count on Nugget either being in front of the big tent near the Bryan Center or the big tent near the Brodhead Center, sitting on a stone platform, waiting to greet others. We all joined each other in taking pictures, tossing her A-P-P-L-E-s, keeping our food away from her, and feeling our tension melt away as we felt Nugget’s golden fur. I once told Keith and Nugget about three months into the new semester that in three months I forgot a lot of the strain, worry, and panic that came with the past 17 months of the pandemic as we three appreciated the unusually warm November day. And while the challenges we face are far from over, I continue to feel renewed hope from the moments I had with Nugget, who was a symbol that you were ready to be loved on-campus.
As I finish writing this tribute (which I swear I wrote myself), I remember the moments where I connected with others, from late-night problem sets to theatre performances. But between all these moments was Nugget, who was waiting for you between your big tests and small meetings. Nugget served as a constant reminder that amid all the work you were caught up in, that home, comfort, and community were never too far away. And while the new pets on campus can never replace Nugget, I hope they can carry on some of the joy that Nugget instilled on campus. I also consider how I’ve grown because of Nugget. I’m taking care of my sister’s dog right now and I’ll potentially be taking care of my own dog someday. I can’t help but to think that Nugget has made me more open to others, to share smiles, and stand tall just as she did through hard times. Keith, I thank you for bringing Nugget to campus every day. Nugget, I thank you for being you. Here’s to both of you. We at Duke will always love you.
Daniel Hwang is a member of the Class of 2022.
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