Shit We Duke Students Say

I practically keep my entire life in the Notes app on my phone: it’s my to do list, shopping list, journal…you get the idea. Last semester, I was feeling particularly annoyed by some comments I’d heard on campus, so I decided to start a new note: “Shit Duke Students Say.” Here are a few of my personal favorites.

– “I’m dying but it’s fine”

– “I’m on my second caffeine tablet of the day”

– “Running on fumes always”

– “How’s your week?” “Not great, but I never have a great week, so it’s fine.”

Now don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I don’t ever make comments like these either because believe me, I do. They ran pretty rampantly from me last semester, which ended up being a particularly rough few months for me. It started with rush, which brought up a lot of internal questions for me about my identity, particularly with respect to social culture on campus. I was also in two pre-med classes that I really just didn’t like, which caused me to re-evaluate my intended course of study. I was involved in a theatrical production that was extremely demanding of my time and energy and that I was not enjoying. A friend was having a really tough semester and I wanted to be there for them as much as possible. I felt stressed, overwhelmed, and sleep-deprived at almost all times. I was barely getting my work done and felt like I wasn’t truly learning in any of my classes because I didn’t have the time or energy to even process what I was being taught or reading.

This summer, I went into my job at a summer musical theatre program feeling unsure about how I’d like it and how demanding the work would be. I really didn’t want another three months feeling unfulfilled and sleep-deprived. But my experience was exactly the opposite. Although we had 8-12 hour workdays in rehearsal and then came home to an evening job as an RA for the students at the program, I hardly ever felt tired. Rather, I felt energized because I was doing things I love for 24 hours a day.

My experience this summer caused me to come into the semester with a new perspective. I was no longer willing to feel like I was just doing what was absolutely necessary and nothing more on a daily basis. What was the point of being so lucky to attend a place like Duke, with such a wide range of courses and opportunities available, but feeling like I could never keep up and was never experiencing this place fully? I decided to change my course of study to Music and Public Policy, which will hopefully prepare me to be able to do what I intended to do with medicine – to help people – but in a way that feels more fueled by my passions. So far, this semester has been much more rewarding. Though I’m busy, maybe a little overcommitted, and at times stressed, I love all of the things I’m doing, which makes it so much easier to put in the work.

So as stressful as this place can be, I think sometimes it’s a matter of what perspective you choose to take. My parents always told me growing up that whatever job you have, you might as well make the most out of it, even if it seems like the worst job on the planet. As Duke students, we’re pretty lucky to have a pretty fantastic job in which we are given so many experiences and opportunities. So let’s make the most of it, keep our heads up, prioritize self-care, and be positive and grateful for all that we do have, even when the going gets tough. And if there’s something about what we are doing, the commitments we have, or the classes we are taking that isn’t allowing us to live as fully as we want to, or forcing us to “run on fumes” or to be “dying but it’s fine,” let’s do what we can to change that.

Author’s note: by no means am I trying to discount issues like mental illness, family pressure to pursue certain fields of study, or any other similar, extremely important factors that we can’t simply change or get rid of. I am simply presenting my own story and perspective and am grateful to have the things and the support I do have. Thanks for reading.