‘That experience alone is priceless’: Seniors reflect on Duke community, personal growth before graduation

Friends studied on the quad, enjoying for their last two weeks together before they head home for the summer.
Friends studied on the quad, enjoying for their last two weeks together before they head home for the summer.

With commencement just around the corner, members of the Class of 2023 reflect on four years of community, personal growth and school spirit, even after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly two years of their college experience.

Seniors found friendship in the simple things, such as “having that set schedule where everyone’s free at 1:15 p.m. for lunch,” said senior Talia Roth. 

Senior Isabella Geraci’s favorite memories of Duke include eating and spending time with friends, especially during her first year. She and her friends often ate dinner together at Marketplace when they were first-years, and even named their group chat “Marketplace at Seven” in honor of their nightly meals. 

“We were such a little family freshman year,” Geraci said. “Always going to dinner together was really special.”

One of senior Ronan Tegerdine’s favorite memories was watching Duke’s Final Four appearance against North Carolina with his friends outside Devil’s Krafthouse last year, despite the loss. 

Then there were the more serious moments that built lasting community. For senior Giovanny Sims, the memories from Duke that “stand out the most” include “the time and the sacrifice people made to be there for one another, regardless of how much we had going on.”

“Whether it's myself or others helping me, [my friends] decided to prioritize those friendships instead of the work at times when it was crucial. Those are the memories I always take away,” Sims said.

The COVID-19 pandemic

From initial campus shutdowns in 2020 to the University lifting the last remnants of its COVID-19 policy, seniors experienced every stage of Duke’s pandemic response. 

Geraci pointed to how the Class of 2023 went through a “normal” first-year experience, followed by a “totally COVID” sophomore year, a “half-normal” junior year and a “super, super normal Duke” in their final year.

This was especially true for Tegerdine, who is graduating after three years. Tegerdine enrolled at Duke in the fall of 2020 and spent his first year of classes nearly all online, with a return to pseudo-normalcy during his second year.

“I feel like I almost took a four-year college experience, and I turned it into a year and a half. And that's very strange to think about,” he said. 

For Roth, restrictions and online classes during the pandemic made it so there was “no social interaction whatsoever.” At the same time, Roth pointed to how campus reopening made her final years at Duke “much more exciting.” 

Tegerdine agreed, feeling as though it is “far easier to feel in community with people or just recognize people” after the pandemic than it was during the pandemic, although “that also might just come with time.” 

“[The COVID-19 pandemic] definitely negatively impacted my college experience, but I wouldn't, looking back, say that it ruined it,” Roth said. “I have had two full amazing years that have made up for that year and a half that was really horrible for me, to be honest.”

Towards the future

Despite the effects of the pandemic, seniors pointed to the communities they found and built throughout their time at Duke — “people who have accepted me for me,” according to Roth. 

One of senior Lara Bamberger’s favorite memories from her time at Duke was her first performance at a home football game as a member of the Dancing Devils, Duke’s official dance team. As she ran onto the field with fireworks lighting up the sky, she realized “how incredible the Duke spirit and family truly is and how it affected [her] Duke experience so much.”

Sims named the David M. Rubenstein Scholarship Program and the Political Engagement Project Fellowship as two “pivotal highlights” of his Duke experience for allowing him to “make friends and connect with others” with shared experiences. 

As work becomes a “big deal” and she lives apart from her friends, Geraci feels how equally “exciting” and “daunting” being apart from her college community might be. 

“College is such a unique time,” Geraci said. “It's not the same when you all live in a dorm, or you live in an apartment building, and you're doing the same things, and you're just together all the time, right?”

“If you asked me a week ago, I would tell you I'm not ready to leave at all,” Bamberger said. “I think I've come to a place where I'm going to take all the experiences I had at Duke and all the people that have made it so incredible and take them with me.”

Looking back

Seniors expressed that their time at Duke has changed them in ways that leave them as different people than when they arrived. 

At the end of his undergraduate years at Duke, Tegerdine feels “a lot more grown up.” His personality and academic interests have changed “for the better,” as he feels that he’s become a “more curious and knowledgeable person than [he] ever could have” before Duke. 

Geraci and Roth pointed to how they adapted to the sometimes “overwhelming” pressure at Duke to constantly achieve. Roth noted how “easy” it is to “fall into the idea that you have to do everything all the time.” 

“As I've gone through my four years, I've realized that … I can just be whoever I want to be,” Roth said.

“We all, for better or for worse, hold ourselves to such a high standard,” Sims added. “It's always easy, especially being here at Duke, to keep your head so much in the books that you lose sight of what's really important, the friendships that you make along the way.”

Several seniors expressed mixed feelings about leaving Duke. Geraci feels excited to be an alumna, a part of a “community for [her] entire life.” For her, graduation feels like “it’s time” — but she also doesn’t know “where all the time went.” 

“It's time to say goodbye … It's bittersweet, but I really enjoyed the experience,” Sims said. “That experience alone is priceless. It's really priceless.”

Holly Keegan profile
Holly Keegan | University News Editor

Holly Keegan is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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