Letter: The spirit of our years at Duke

a tribute to Nugget

Dear Keith,

When I came back to Duke and saw Nugget for the first time in a year on Monday, I didn’t think it would be the last time we spent together. But with old friends, we never think so.

It was 70 degrees, a warm breeze heralding the encroaching summer. Most of the graduating class had moved out and moved on.

But there was Nugget, sitting patiently on the stone bench outside West Union, just like she had when we met seven semesters ago on the steps of Marketplace. Trotting over, she was still as gracious as I remembered. Her fur shone golden in the sunlight as she nudged her way into my hands, panting insistently.

We watched people passing by in caps and gowns, a few of the thousands of students she and you came to know. A few of them stopped to say goodbye to Nugget.

“Do you think she knows which of her friends are graduating?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t think she can tell,” you said. “But when there aren’t so many people, when she hasn’t seen her friends for a while, she gets confused about why they’re gone.”

You’ve told me so before, but until today, I didn’t truly understand. After all, there was no confusion when you could always see a friend again tomorrow. And so sophomore, junior and senior year slipped through our hands, until suddenly, it was time for us to say goodbye.

You said she’d found heaven on earth with all of her friends here. But the truth is, we found ourselves through her, too. For many of us, your daily visits set the tempo of our college lives. 

Thrown into the temporal gyre of Duke, with its classes and deadlines and meetings, with friendships formed and dissipated, no amount of loss or confusion could dissuade Nugget from nudging her nose into our hands.

When I wasn’t sure where, exactly, the soul of this campus might be found, she would be there. She was always there—the constancy of her daily presence, the subtlety of her wordless reassurances, was friendship distilled into animal form.

“Nugget—shake! Other! Other!” you said that day. She put her paw in your hand, a little slow and hesitant that day, but still reliable.

You’d taught her the trick when she was a few months old, you said. She’d been shaking hands for ten—no, twelve—years now.

I thought that someday this summer, I would learn to shake her hand. I thought she might be there to see me graduate next spring. I thought we would always have more time.

In a way, Nugget was all of us. She was the spirit of our time at Duke—always there, until we weren’t.

She didn’t take any of us for granted. And though she’s gone, we shouldn’t take each other, and our years here, for granted.

Thank you for bringing her to see us—forever her friends, and yours.

Your friend,


Charlie Zong is a Trinity senior.


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