I keep trying to explain the feeling after Duke pulled out a win Wednesday night.
It wasn’t that I was happy we beat UNC— though I was. It wasn’t that I was glad we could put UNC in their place—though I was. It wasn’t that I was relieved tenting for five weeks was worth it—though I was.
No, the feeling was different.
The feeling was more of a “welcome home”, “this is family”, “we’re together” feeling. The feeling was looking around and seeing a sea of blue and white jumping up and down. The feeling was hearing the joyous screams, the endless chanting. The feeling was watching the benches burn, seeing the sparks rise into the air and fall around us. The feeling was inclusive. The feeling was the first time I’ve felt that truly every Duke student was on the same side.
We were all happy. We were all relieved. And we were all proud.
As much as we say we are not a school of “competitive” people, that we all have each other’s backs, that everyone is equal, it isn’t true. (We are all divided on so many petty issues!) It’s not any truer here than it is at any other top university. Every school is competitive in its own way… Whether it be competitive about intelligence, or social life, or sports, or all three.
But in that one victorious moment I felt I was actually on the same level as all of my peers. That nothing mattered but the fact that OUR school had won. That TOGETHER we DID IT.
This immediate, but ephemeral, sense of ease, joy, and acceptance I felt when we won surprised me. It surprised me because I realized I hadn’t felt like that in a while. Yes, I love it here. Yes, it’s home. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like it when you look around and see social climbing, grade comparing, and club sport boasting.
So, today, as I reminisce on that feeling, I’m a little sad. Why can’t I feel the way I felt after Wednesday’s game every day?
Why is there a sense of competition here? Why does it feel like we’re not all equal?
Sometimes I blame myself. I chose to go to a competitive school, I tell myself.
But that’s not what it is.
I didn’t choose a competitive school. I chose to be competitive here. We choose to be competitive here. And Duke isn’t the only competitive school. In fact, some of my friends from other top schools have led me to believe Duke may be less “competitive” than most.
But it still gets to me. It still gets to me that we try to put people in their place, make ridiculous hierarchies in all of the different activities in which we’re involved,and to intimidate people into feeling inadequate, intentionally and unintentionally, in order to boost our own sense of adequacy.
We try to prove ourselves, when there is nothing left to prove.
We compete with each other, and it takes away from that beautiful feeling I felt Wednesday night.
Why can’t we all join together, be happy for each other’s successes, build up people that are struggling, and be a family?
Sometimes I consider what I would say if someone in a tour asked me if Duke’s students are competitive. Of course, I would assure them that no, we are not. Because that’s what parents want to hear. That’s what will get their kids to apply here. And of course I want to say that Duke students aren’t competitive because people from home constantly try to convince me that my school is.
But the truth is that Duke is competitive. But it’s not just Duke. It’s all driven people. Every driven person in this world feels a sense of duty and pride towards something to which they devote themselves. This creates either self competition or others-centered competition. And it’s an issue that can’t be avoided by, say, sending your kid to a less competitive school. There are driven people at every school, in every facet of our world, and that can create competition.
The only way to change the level of competition among students at a university is for each individual student to change. And how does each student do this?
By finding honor, joy, and success through individual accomplishments, without comparing these accomplishments to the successes of others. By being confident in your own abilities and honest about your inabilities. By being vulnerable with the people around you and admitting when you need help, but standing up for yourself when you know what you’re doing.
So, yes, Duke is competitive. But so am I. And so are you. And you. And you. So are we. And so is that “other school”. And the other school. And the other school.
It won’t be an easy process to make Duke less competitive. It won’t be an easy process to make us all feel more equal. But I’m patient. And hopeful. And I’ll cherish the moments when I don’t feel that competition, and when I am so proud to be a Duke student, like Wednesday night.
It’s a funny irony that I felt the most at home, the most together, after a moment of intense competition. But it’s almost as if so many competitive people all in a room of hyped competition completely drained each other of our competitive tendencies, and we all gave up and joined together in happiness and relief.
I can only hope that each of us will make a conscious decision to change, or that at least we will reach a point when our competitive tendencies are drained and we’ll finally have to come together.