Letters: Tributes to Nugget

letters to the editor

More than just a dog

By Alex Leo-Guerra

I vividly remember my first time meeting Nugget during O-week. Students had gathered around her, crooning with “awws,” eyes filled with admiration, coming to learn that they would likely be seeing her much more frequently in the coming weeks. I never knew life without a dog, so I realized that Nugget would be a source of comfort for me as I tackled the many trials and tribulations of a college education. And comfort me she did.

I made it a point to visit Nugget every time I saw her. Even if I would be late to class,even if Keith was already on his way back to his car, even if I needed to use the restroom: I had time to spare. While chatting with Keith and absorbing his stories, I would calmly scratch her head, emulating the gentle petting I would give my dogs at home. It provided both a sense of comfort and nostalgia. When you were with Nugget, her calm demeanor instilled a sense of patience and grace within you. When you were with Nugget, your worries slipped away. No need to dwell on midterms. No need to consider how to approach your papers. In those moments with her, nothing mattered except the connection between your heart and her smile.

I will miss Nugget, but I will live each day honoring her by remembering what joy an everyday interaction can bring into your life. She taught us how a positive presence can bring so much light into your day. She instilled a distinct feeling of gratitude within us—for dogs, for one another, and for life itself. She wasn’t just a dog—she was an emblem of kindness, empathy, calm, and happiness. One look at her smile and you knew that everything would be alright. As we look to a Duke without Nugget, I know that her memory will empower many of us to be better people than we were before. All it takes is the ability to be open to all. Regardless of our identities, Nugget was there for us and left us all happier than we were before seeing her. If we all embodied that same mindset, the world would be a better place. Who knows—maybe, if we uplift enough people, an A-P-P-L-E will be waiting for us.

Please consider signing a petition to name Duke’s elevated platform on the BC Plaza after Nugget & Keith. They’ve done so much for our community, they deserve to be commemorated. 

Alex Leo-Guerra is a Trinity senior. 

'A wagging, smiling ray of sunshine'

By Michael Cao

When I first met Nugget, she was a wagging, smiling ray of sunshine. She still was when I saw her just a few days ago. And she always will be. Thank you to Nugget and Keith for all the moments of joy and companionship brought to generations of the Duke community. Rest in peace, sweet pea.

Michael Cao is a Trinity junior. 

'Nugget's story'

By Gretchen Wright, Trinity '20

Something no one tells you about your early twenties is that not only is your family’s dog going to die, but all your friends’ will, too. You’re all going to be sad about exactly the same thing at slightly different times. Today is one of those times. My childhood dog passed away in November. She was a giant, wise, smelly German Shepherd mix. She ate puzzle pieces off the coffee table and begged only for popcorn and steak and once came home with two of the neighbor’s chickens, grinning proudly around a mouthful of feathers. I was twelve when we brought her home and 24 when we put her down: half of my life, she was by my side. And then, she wasn’t.

Everyone has a sad dog story, one that hurts to think about but makes you smile at the same time. We’ve been remembering our dogs and writing their stories for a very long time, whether Where the Red Fern Grows, Marley and Me, or Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is more your style. There’s even a little moment in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus finally returns home after twenty years away and his beloved dog, Argos, looks up from the floor, recognizes his long-lost master, wags his tail, and takes his last breath, finally able to rest. It makes me want to cry every time I think about it. We all have sad dog stories that we hold onto to remember how good they were, and how hard it was to say goodbye. 

Today, Nugget’s story joined that list. I don’t know what Nugget’s favorite toy or treat was. I didn’t walk her or train her or take her to the vet. She wasn’t my dog, and the biggest share of grief belongs to Keith; he’s in my thoughts as much as she is. No, I was just one of Nugget’s hundreds of fans and she wouldn’t have remembered me. But on some days, leaving a brutal exam or missing home or just enjoying a golden afternoon on the quad, Nugget was the only dog in the world. I hope she knew how special she was to all of us. 

There are lots of good dogs worth remembering. Nugget is one of them. 

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Gretchen Wright is a member of the Class of 2020. 

'A dog's love is simple'

Kelsey Graywill, Trinity '18

There were days as an undergraduate when running into Keith and Nugget on campus was my only solace. No doubt - being a student at Duke can be taxing, and Duke can be a complicated place. But a dog’s love is simple. We owe so much to Keith for his generosity, to Nugget for her gentleness, to both for their loyalty. I saw them on campus, by chance, the day before Nugget passed - Keith happily gave me dog parenting tips as I prepare to bring my own golden retriever puppy home this summer and Nugget was as sweet and tenderhearted as ever. She was helping people right up until she crossed the rainbow bridge. She leaves behind memories the campus community will cherish, always.

I’m sharing a picture of myself with Keith and Nugget at my graduation in 2018. I loved Nugget so much I designed a t-shirt of her—Keith is wearing it here.

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Kelsey Graywill is a member of the Class of 2018. 

'Anytime I see a North Carolina sunset sky'

By Omar Khan, Trinity '19

Amongst the most precious memories I have of being a Duke student are the times when I’d  sneak an apple out of Marketplace and fling it across the green in the direction of Lilly Library for  Nugget to chase down. I remember Keith’s gentle laughter in those moments, and how I would forget the difficulties of the day. Nugget had a remarkable capacity to bring individuals out of their beleaguered thoughts and into the moment. One could genuinely see it happen: an undergrad stumbling back from the library, hunched under the weight of their backpack, would look up, see Nugget, and absolutely light up. The weight of the backpack was forgotten, often due to it being flung aside. I noticed more North Carolina sunset skies in Nugget’s presence than otherwise; not only because I would have to squat down to pet her while looking up at Keith, but also because she truly  made you live in the moment.  

What a wonderful thing, then, for her to be coupled with Keith; a person who seems to have lived a million and one wonderful moments and always has a story to share. I cared for Nugget because she was a very special dog, and I was a very homesick student. However, the reason I will always remember Nugget is that she is how I met Keith. That, and because anytime I see a North  Carolina sunset sky, my memory conjures the sound of her tail wagging. 

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Omar Khan is a member of the Class of 2019. 

'Pure Nugget magic'

By Natalie Chen, Trinity '22

Anyone who is reading this has been touched by Nugget’s magic.I came to know Nugget during my freshman year at Duke (2018). It was a normal weekday, and I remember feeling tired after 3 classes back to back. As I was coming back from class, I saw a group of students huddled around WU. When I asked my upperclassman friend what was going on, they said, “Oh, have you met Nugget yet? She’s our friendly campus dog!”

She was beloved on campus because she would always turn a frown into a smile. Some dogs tolerate being pet, but Nugget wanted you to pet her. She wished to be friends with you, your friends, and all of Duke. Her happy nature ensured any bad day transformed into a good one. It was pure Nugget magic.

As you may know, during the pandemic, many students became more isolated than ever. And not just in the physical sense, but also in the mental and emotional senses. When I think back to walking alone on an empty campus during Covid, I remember Nugget and Keith brightening campus. I have also bonded with other Duke students through Nugget. It was incredibly impactful to feel the love and care from those experiences, making Duke more connected and the world a little less lonely.

We never got to thank her and Keith for the beautiful memories, but I think deep down, they know how much they mean to us. Otherwise, why would they keep revisiting Duke’s campus for 11 years? I still envision her laughing, and her happy tail wags are ingrained in my memory. She was an absolute ray of sunshine, a true campus icon.

Thank you for the Nuggets of joy. Shine on in another world. You will always have a place in the Duke family.


Natalie Chen is a member of the Class of 2022. 

'A soft spot'

By Abi Schaefer

Everyone knows I have a soft spot for a golden retriever, but this sweet girl and her Dad Keith were one of the highlights during my time at Duke. Nugget always made sure that students smiled, was available to give out lots of loves, and always enjoyed all the pets and attention she received from everyone on campus. Her Dad Keith is one of the best people at Duke, always kind, generous with his time, and so willing to share his girl Nugget with all of us. When central campus pool was open, they would frequently stop by for a visit and make not only all the students, but the staff smile with her presence. Nugget will be greatly missed by everyone that she met. Thoughts and prayers to Keith and the entire Duke community.

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Abi Schaefer is the Director of Aquatics at Duke Recreation and Physical Education. 

More tributes were written by Charlie Zong, Dav King and Daniel Hwang


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