We spend an awful lot of time thinking about, talking about, and experiencing rejection at Duke. I’ve heard and been a part of quite a few discussions, particularly among first-year students, about how it feels like getting into Duke was the ‘easy part.’ Once we arrive on campus, we’re asked by hundreds of eager, smiling students at the Activities Fair to sign up for their club or organization. We write down our net ID on far too many lists. We get far too many emails about open general interest meetings. We attend far too many of these meetings in the first few weeks of freshman year. Then, the catch: we can’t just waltz our way into many of these organizations. They often require have sort of application, audition, tryout, or other barrier to membership. (And we haven’t even gotten to talking about Greek/SLG rush season, a bastion of exclusivity in its own right.) The word “rejection” even made it onto one of Team Kenan’s signature fake major t-shirts last school year.
This dialogue makes a lot of sense. Getting rejected–from anything, on any level–is difficult, for all of us. But I sometimes wonder why we talk so much about how much rejection Duke students, in particular, face.
I wonder if we should flip this discussion on its head. As strange as this may sound, I wonder if the reason Duke students feel like we experience so much rejection is that so many of us have experienced so little rejection or failure before coming to Duke. I’d imagine the majority of us–myself included–have been celebrated pretty extensively for our accomplishments throughout our lives. Most of us did some pretty cool things before arriving at Duke. We graduated at the top of our classes. Our Facebook feeds were filled with embarrassing posts from family members about the award we won or accomplishment we achieved. We are seen as “celebrities” when we come back to our high schools.
Once we’ve made it through the selective college admissions process, we naturally assume that our accomplishments will continue. So it hits us pretty hard when we get rejected from clubs, organizations, and teams once we’re at Duke. For some of us, these might be some of our first true experiences with rejection. The unfortunate reality of the situation, though, is that the real world outside of the Duke bubble is filled with a lot of rejection. For example, applying for jobs is a process filled with rejection for many (including plenty of Duke grads I know). In the real world, outside the “Duke bubble,” we won’t always get what we want, and we won’t always be celebrated for our accomplishments.
I’m not trying to argue that rejection doesn’t suck (because it does) or that we should be less upset by it (because it’s not my place, or anyone else’s, to invalidate anyone’s emotions.) But I’d argue that we should perhaps take a minute to check ourselves when we complain about how much selectivity and rejection fills Duke’s campus. We should take advantage of the many protections that the Duke bubble offers and get comfortable with failure and rejection while we’re here so that we can move productively forward from these experiences in the real world.