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Stelfanie Williams, Trinity ‘98, returned to Duke to become vice president for Durham and community affairs in August 2018. She talked to The Chronicle about her past, present and future goals for the role. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A recent article in the Chronicle criticized how many newly-grads find themselves on a moral descent as they enter the workforce. Trinity sophomore Christian Sheerer writes that becoming “bad people that do bad things” is somewhat of an unspoken Duke destiny, clutching onto wealth as a measure of success.
“Alright, I have fifteen minutes.”
It’s five weeks deep into the semester and the first round of midterms has already come and gone. Throughout the week, I frequented the first-floor of Perkins, where a sea of hunched figures, coffee, textbooks, and glowing laptop screens greeted me as I hit my own late-night grinds.
Staring blankly into the search bar, you wait for inspiration to strike your hovering fingertips. Infinite possibility glares across the screen.
Last April, I remember ripping open letters and packages from universities with unmistakable excitement. In spite of the dazzling displays of pomp and propaganda, a realization quickly struck me: college comes with a cost, literally.
Duke is riddled with contradictions. In the campus culture, it’s evidenced by the rigid social hierarchy in spite of general distaste for exclusivity. It’s also seen in the suffocating notion of “effortless perfection” and the precarious facade students put on in order to conform. But in the wider institutional scheme, these incongruities are more evasive, slipping through the cracks and crevices of the administrative infrastructure. My previous article not only explored the importance of intentionality for first-years, but also alluded to just how decentralized Duke is.
An inscrutable mass of p-froshes descended upon Duke’s campus several weekends ago for the early decision Blue Devil Days. Congregating on the Bryan Center Plaza, the students buzzed with excitement for what will be their home for the next four years. While I watched their elation unfold, a sense of nostalgia stirred within me. I grasped that I was not so wholly removed from them, as it was all but ten months ago that I replied with an emphatic “Yes!” to Duke’s offer of admission. But as they anxiously await their journeys in this gothic wonderland, it’s hard to pinpoint the collective experience the class of 2023 envisions for themselves. Although I hesitate to posit too broadly, I believe it’s important to mold these perceptions early on. As soon as possible, actually.
As second semester rolls in full force, networking events and cover letter writing workshops abound. Swarms of students contend for a wide variety of summer internships, caught in a mad dash for work experiences to pad their CVs and resumes. My own email inbox is drowning with reminders of application deadlines and tips from the Career Center. In spite of it all, I find myself oddly distant from this frenzy of polished cover letters and sweat-stained suits.
I can think of more than one occasion where I half-jokingly played around with the idea of dropping out of college during first semester. Who doesn’t? When an endless cycle of midterms sends your brain spinning, even the seemingly-sweet embrace of sleep manages to haunt your unconscious mind with whispers of fatal premonitions and red, bold-faced “X”s scattered across your exams and papers. Waking in a cold sweat, you wonder if college is worth the trouble at all.
Coming home for winter break after completing just one semester at Duke means being peppered with endless questions about my future from dear relatives and friends. The most popular question of them all being: “What is your major?” I’ve heard this question enough times to know that “major” is code for your career path, and thus the inevitable follow-up question ensues: “So what are you going to do with that degree after college?”