New Life Chapters

Project Change leaders and participants at Mellow Mushroom

“It’s exciting, but a little scary,” a co-worker explains to me in the Institute’s coffee room
about the prospects of becoming a new parent. Although I’m not an expectant parent these words resonate with me. Here I am starting this new post-college working life stage. The start of any new phase of life seems to be exciting and new but also unknown and scary. An exciting aspect of having an office next to the coffee is having little life chats ranging from becoming a new parent to the political philosophy behind migration. However, the thing that facilitates these conversations, the coffee machine, is still scary to me with all the options of combinations and flavors available.

For the past four years I have been hanging around the Kenan Institute for Ethics, taking advantages of opportunities offered here and being a self-proclaimed groupie. Thus, the plunge into the “real world” of meeting new colleagues, learning all the acronyms (e.g. MASTERY Mentorship, Academics, Self-Esteem, Tutoring and Engaging with Refuge Youth), and learning where the bathroom is has thankfully been a bit more gradual compared to others I know entering the workforce.

One of the first responsibilities as the 2015-2016 Bear Postgraduate Fellow was helping out with the pre-orientation program that Kenan runs, Project Change. Project Change hosts twenty-one incoming freshmen (pChangers) and gives them an “immersive leadership experience in which participants live, learn, and work in Durham.” Developing leadership skills means facing adversity head-on; for most of the week pChangers are intentionally given few directions and little heads up on what will happen next. The week itself is a bit of a metaphor for what awaits them in college life. However, the goal is not to see how frustrated they will get but rather to challenge them to think outside the box and to push them slightly outside their comfort zones, working together to solve problems. The mantra “Participate. Don’t anticipate.” was adopted by some of the pChangers.

During the week, I helped to facilitate different activities that kickstarted conversations (e.g. the relationship between Duke and Durham) and also was available as a resource to give insight to what my experience at Duke has been for the past four years. Some of my practical advice (which buses to catch, how to survive without air conditioning, which taxi drivers are the fastest) I found has already become dated in the four months since graduating. After reading an NPR article about certain cultural references that the incoming class would not understand I don’t feel that badly for being slightly “out of touch.” Hopefully some of the advice of not being dead-set on a particular academic or social path and to take advantage of all the programs and resources Duke has to offer still is relevant.

Both the pChangers and I have both had similar experiences getting involved with Kenan early in our Duke careers; which will hopefully give them the same jumpstart to think about things differently and more critically that I experienced. And hopefully their Kenan introduction to Duke will also push them to be active participants in their new community. Prior to my first Kenan program (the Ethics Leadership and Global Citizenship FOCUS cluster), I was positive that I was going to design environmentally progressive urban planning adaptations for communities but now through Kenan I have gotten to experience working with refugees, adoptees, and urban agriculture and my future career trajectory seems totally open. That’s one of the wonderful things about Kenan is the ability to flip your thinking upside down and consider something new without necessarily making any choices for you or telling you what to do.

Being back at Duke on East Campus in the Kenan Institute for Ethics is a bit like muscle memory. As students flood the halls attending their new classes, it is exciting to see the familiar pChanger face some of whom have stopped by the office to tell me of their new adventures. I still feel a bit like I should be walking with them to classes.

It is exciting and a little bit scary to be starting a new chapter but I am excited for all of us to take this next adventure by storm.

– Cece