Homebound over hoopla: Why I'm ok with missing the Duke-UNC game

For three years running, I’ve missed the electrifying atmosphere of the Duke vs. UNC men’s basketball home game — a highlight for many on Duke’s campus, marking a pinnacle of school spirit. This annual basketball face-off is more than just a game; it’s a tradition steeped in rivalry, camaraderie and Blue Devil pride. Yet, as the fervor builds on campus, I am led elsewhere, back to my roots in Venezuela. This year, unlike the previous two, my decision to miss the game was made not with a sense of loss but with an overwhelming eagerness for the warmth of home. The choice to leave earlier than the game’s date was deliberate, driven by a deep longing to maximize my time at home — a journey that takes me a day and a half, navigating through flights and layovers that span continents.

In my first year at Duke, the realization that I would miss the much-anticipated Duke vs. UNC game for spring break left me grappling with a sense of FOMO. The excitement on campus was palpable, the energy infectious. Friends and fellow students donned in Duke blue discussed game strategies, player stats and historic rivalries with a passion that could ignite the most indifferent of hearts. Social media was awash with anticipation, and here I was, about to embark on a long trip home, away from the epicenter of this annual collegiate ritual.

That first time around was tough. It was Coach K’s last home Duke-UNC game and campus was going wild with anticipation. The atmosphere was electric, a once-in-a-lifetime event that was palpable even from miles away. And there I was, sitting in my living room, half a world away, tuning in with my parents. Yet, despite the initial sting of missing out, surrounded by family, I found a different joy in sharing this piece of my Duke life with them. We cheered and groaned together, turning what could have been a moment of sadness into a memorable bonding experience. By the end of the game, I had turned my parents into real Blue Devils, their enthusiasm for my university's spirit a testament to the infectious nature of Duke pride.

The second year brought a similar sentiment: a tinge of regret at missing out on an experience so quintessential to the Duke identity. Conversations and plans swirled around me, a reminder of the communal joy and spirited unity I was leaving behind. Yet, even as I felt the tug of this campus tradition, the allure of home — of family, familiar streets and the comforting embrace of a community that has known me my entire life — began to weigh more significantly on my heart.

This year, my decision to miss the Duke vs. UNC game came from a place of clarity and joy. The FOMO that once clouded my departure has dissipated, replaced by a profound appreciation for the opportunity to return to my roots. The excitement for the game, while still a vibrant part of campus life, no longer holds sway over my choices. The realization has dawned on me that the essence of college life isn't encapsulated by a single event, no matter how storied or celebrated. The decision to head home earlier this year was made with an eagerness that surprised even me. The longing for the familiar, for the embrace of family and the comfort of home, far outweighed the allure of any campus event.

The travel back to Venezuela is long and, at times, arduous. It requires patience, as the excitement of returning home competes with the exhaustion of travel. Yet, each moment spent in transit is a reminder of the distances we traverse for the sake of connection and belonging. The anticipation of home, with its blend of warmth, love and familiarity, becomes all the more poignant with each passing mile. It's a testament to the strength of familial bonds and the deep-seated need for connection that transcends geographical barriers.

Missing the Duke vs. UNC game for the third consecutive year has brought a sense of peace and perspective. It highlights the breadth of experiences that shape our college journey, reminding us that there’s a world beyond campus borders that calls for our attention and presence. Life on Duke’s campus, with its traditions, celebrations and collective moments of joy, is undeniably special. Yet, the pull of home, with its deep-rooted connections and personal histories, offers a different kind of fulfillment.

This year, as I prepare to watch the game from thousands of miles away, surrounded by family, I do so with a heart full of gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to experience the richness of both worlds — the electric excitement of Duke and the comforting embrace of home. The game, while an iconic part of the Duke experience, is but a single thread in the rich tapestry of college life. It’s in the weaving together of these diverse experiences — of campus traditions and the warmth of home — that we find the true essence of our journey through these formative years. My choice to prioritize home is a reminder that sometimes, the greatest joy comes not from being part of the crowd but from embracing the paths that lead us back to where we belong.

Despite the fulfillment and joy I’ve found in choosing home over the Duke vs. UNC game these past years, there’s a part of me that knows next year will be different. As my senior year approaches, the desire to fully immerse myself in every quintessential Duke experience grows stronger. The chance to stand among my peers, painted in Duke blue, cheering on our team against our storied rivals, is a rite of passage I realize I should not miss. It's not just about witnessing the game firsthand; it's about being part of the collective memory, the shared energy and the unity that only such an event can inspire. So, while I've cherished my decisions to prioritize home in the past, next year promises a shift. I plan to be there, in the heart of the excitement, not just for the sake of saying “I was there” but to fully embrace and contribute to the spirit and tradition that make Duke University uniquely vibrant. It will be a fitting culmination to my collegiate journey — a journey marked by learning, growth and the balance between embracing where I come from and diving into the experiences that define where I'm going.

Barbara Cardenas is a Trinity junior. Her column typically runs on alternate Mondays.


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