For my first post of sophomore year, I could write about a number of topics.
I could write about some amazing people I met this summer and how they challenged me to mature in certain ways.
I could write about my experience as a leader for the Duke Pre-Orientation Program Project BUILD, which stands for Building Undergraduate Involvement In The Life Of Durham.
I could write about how Orientation Week did not go well for me this year because transitions are hard for me and I don’t handle change well.
I could write about the awkward, “Hey, oh my gosh, how was your summer?!” passerby college conversation that has now replaced the, “Hey, how are you? Late night? Yeah, me too” passerby conversation of the spring.
And I WILL write about these things over the next few weeks.
But as my first post of sophomore year, I want to talk about the freshmen.
I know who you all DON’T’ want to be.
You don’t want to be that kid who talks too much on the first day of class, or who calls his mom before he falls asleep. You don’t want to be that kid who sits alone at dinner.
But you all especially don’t want to be that kid who everyone can tell is a freshman.
We read these funny Yik-Yaks and say the same cliché jokes about how we recognize the freshmen because they wear their lanyards around their necks or they double check to make sure they got on the right bus or are in the right class.
But I can spot the freshmen for a different, deeper reason.
I can spot you because I can tell by the expressions on your faces, by your words and actions, that you are torn between two ways to be on this campus.
You are petrified you’ll say the wrong thing, but also dying to speak your mind.
You’re worried people won’t like you or understand you for you, but you wonder how you’ll ever belong here if you don’t let some people know you.
You feel overwhelmed and confused and inferior, and you are trying to decide whether to believe that no one else feels this way or whether people are just putting up a front.
You’re craving connection and to feel like you belong, but you don’t know whether it’s okay to admit that because when you look around you see people that aren’t admitting anything.
You want to be loved, but not for who you’re trying not to be, but for who you really are. But you also don’t want to be vulnerable because you could tell the minute you stepped on this campus that vulnerability is rare.
Duke culture is labeled as fostering the idea of “effortless perfection”, as being “competitive”, as being “a dangerous environment for people who struggle with eating”, as being “filled with anxiety and depression”.
But all of these labels fall short of characterizing the actual problem.
The actual problem, that undermines all of our campus’ problems, is that Duke students are petrified to be vulnerable.
And so the reason my first post of sophomore year is to all of you freshmen is because I can’t stand for you to be another 1,800 students who are also petrified of vulnerability.
I can see the dilemma in your eyes and I desperately urge you to choose honesty, emotional connection, and vulnerability over surface-level, cop-out, unfulfilling small talk and relationships.
I know it’s hard. You don’t know whether to stand out and be yourself or to hide so you can fit in.
I’ve been there.
For a while, I chose to hide. And that’s why my first two months of college really weren’t great.
I soon decided to take a “middle of the road” approach. I started opening up more, but every time I expressed how I felt or asked a question or encouraged a deep conversation, I would counter my vulnerability with The Freshman Excuse:
“Oh, shoot, did I say too much? I’m sorry, I’m a freshman, I don’t get how these things work.”
“Oh, I wasn’t supposed to admit that? Agh, freshman mistake.”
“Wait, I was supposed to pretend like I didn’t study at all? I didn’t know because I’m a freshman.”
“I’m not supposed to ask for help or say how I really feel? My freshman mistake.”
With just three days into sophomore year, I can already tell how much I used that excuse as a crutch. When classes got overwhelming and I needed to vent, I’d halfway vent to a friend and then say, “Oh, I’m just still adjusting to college. I’m fine.” When friends would let me down I wouldn’t address it and instead would tell myself, “It’s just because relationships take time. It’ll get better once I’m a sophomore.” Now I’m a sophomore and nothing has changed. Vulnerability is hard, and I want that excuse back.
However, the Freshman Excuse creates a ton of problems.
For one, if you rely on it too much, when it’s gone sophomore year you’ll have a slight identity crisis. Trust me.
Second, this excuse invalidates the idea that vulnerability is somehow not okay, that we are all supposed to have it all together all the time or to at least act like it.
And lastly, by using this excuse you’re allowing yourself to believe falsely that you are somehow inferior or not enough.
You freshmen have an extraordinary opportunity to be counter-cultural. Don’t hide and pretend everything is okay and give in to the notion that vulnerability isn’t necessary.
Please know that Duke students struggle. That ALL Duke students question their place on campus. That ALL Duke students crave belonging and love and acceptance. If you don’t believe me from this post, go read any or all of my posts from freshman year. I definitely struggled and I definitely craved love and acceptance.
But, also, please don’t make my mistakes. Don’t hide. Be vulnerable, and don’t do it halfway. Don’t make excuses or apologize for your honesty or for expressing how you feel. Don’t be afraid of becoming That Kid.
Don’t fall victim to the underlying Duke problem, but instead help change it.
This is your chance to start a revolution. Be the class that isn’t afraid to admit struggles, setbacks and failures. Get involved with other students and organizations that see the power of vulnerability, like Me Too Monologues, Pre-Orientation programs, all of the Resource Centers on campus like the Center for Multicultural Affairs and CAPS. Unleash your own vulnerability and join the movement.