Every Tuesday before I give my Admissions Office Tour I introduce myself to the prospective students using the standard format: “Hi, I’m Hope. I’m a sophomore from Winston Salem, North Carolina and I’m double majoring in Global Health and Public Policy and minoring in Education. In my free time, I enjoy blah blah blah. Around campus, I’m involved in blah blah blah. Last summer I did blah blah blah. This summer I’m doing blah blah blah. You should totally ask me more about my major!”
Let me tell you something: No one listens to all the blah blah blahs. They listen to what I’m Majoring in.
I’ve been so frustrated with my major here. All I want to do is study Poverty, its causes, consequences, and multidimensional effects on health, wellbeing, and the economy.
I’m passionate about making the world a better place, and I truly feel I cannot make change without understanding why we need change and how to go about it most effectively.
Why such an incredible university does not have a Poverty Studies major is beyond me, but that’s a blog post for another time.
In trying to figure this out, I’ve realized the insane amount of pressure college students put on themselves to have the perfect major.
Today I’ve realized that I will never find that perfect major.
I can major in Public Policy, but then I have to take two courses that do not interest me at all. I could major in Global Health, but then I’ll have to make that fit in nicely with Public Policy because Global Health is only a double major option. I want to major in Education, but of course they only offer a Minor. (I’m receiving one of the best educations in the country and it doesn’t offer a way for me to learn how best to teach that education? A bit hypocritical, if you ask me.) Or I could major in Sociology, but I’m plain tired of justifying why in the world I would want to do that, and starting that major at the end of Sophomore year is almost possible.
For a while, I couldn’t articulate why all of this Major talk bothered me so much. Yeah, I have to take a few courses I don’t want to take. Yeah, it’s not exactly what I’m passionate about. Yeah, I worked so hard in high school to get to a school where I could finally only learn what was actually worth my time learning and now feel like I can’t even learn what I want to learn. Yeah, I hate grades being lorded over my head because if I could major in Public Policy and take all of the Econ classes Pass/Fail then I would feel much more at peace about my potential GPA. Yeah, I hate being roped into a set course schedule for the next three years because I like autonomy.
But those reasons aren’t the heart of the reason why I’m bothered.
I’m bothered because even if I got to major in exactly what I want, taking only the courses I want to take when I want to take them with the professor I want to teach them, I still wouldn’t be happy.
I still wouldn’t be happy because I don’t like introducing myself in my Tour Guide introduction as any traditional major, because I’m not here for an academic major.
I’m not here to graduate telling future employers that I know best some academic field of study. I’m not here to get good grades to suck up to professors or to get into graduate school.
I’m not here to get a traditional education. I’m here to get a people education.
I’m really only going to be happy about my major if I tell you the truth:
I’m majoring in People.
I’m majoring in making time for people, prioritizing people, being there for people, learning from people, helping people, asking for help from people, truly knowing people, caring about people, loving people, supporting people, and cheering on people.
I’m majoring in late night cookout runs where friends feel comfortable sobbing to me about how they’re failing a class.
I’m majoring in walks around the gardens with deep thinkers who ask me difficult questions.
I’m majoring in classes that are way too hard for me but make me think in a way I never would have before, allowing me to connect in a new and exciting way with interesting professors.
I’m majoring in community service, in getting to know the Durham community.
I’m majoring in my extracurriculars, the clubs where I am inspired by the passion of my peers.
I’m majoring in long dinners and joyful laughs, in sleepovers on Monday nights and a messy apartment. I’m majoring in fun dances with quality friends and tough conversations that end in minor existential crises. I’m majoring in sitting in the audience cheering on my friends as they perform in their dance, singing, and music competitions. I’m majoring in hearing incredible speakers, in attending school-sponsored events. I’m majoring in painting my face blue for every basketball game, in bringing donuts to all the students who study in the library on Friday nights. I’m majoring in giving hugs, in being open about when I need a hug. I’m majoring in the power of authenticity and vulnerability, in the importance of being okay with not being okay.
Maybe you think I’m throwing my education away. But I think if Duke students weren’t so scared, we’d all major in People, too.
We let society tell us that majoring in People is not what high achieving people should do. It’s not part of the path to med school, it’s not a guaranteed way to get a 4.0.
It makes sense. Staying up until 4am to comfort a friend is not the best choice of action the night before an exam. But will you remember that 76 or the way your friends’ eyes lit up as you told her that it was really all going to be okay?
Will you look back on your life as a series of 100’s or as a series of beautiful connections with the people around you?
We are all so bogged down by work here that no one takes the risk to major in People.
But it’s the most rewarding Major. There’s complete autonomy. No one can tell you how to be a good friend. You aren’t expected to be anyone but yourself. No one questions your intelligence or makes you feel inferior. No one asks you to do ridiculous assignments that make you question why you liked a certain subject matter in the first place. Instead, you get to learn from people, and at your own own pace. You get to be there for people who need it more than they could ever explain. You get to be there for YOURSELF. You get to justify, and happily endorse, laughing over dinner with a friend because it’s those moments that shape you, that teach you, that guide you into the person the working world is looking for.
I don’t know why our basic humanness is deligitimized, even forgotten, in college. We are expected to be everywhere all at once, to be perfectly smart, perfectly on time, perfectly independent, perfectly okay. But when we strive for perfection in certain areas, we naturally let go, or give up, other areas. And as Duke students, we give up people. We don’t prioritize our relationships, or the beautiful and simple moments that come from genuine connection. We prioritize meetings, and homework, and studying. We prioritize a major and a career goal that both really can’t ever be fulfilling unless we instead prioritize the people along the way.
Hi, I’m Hope. I’m a sophomore from Winston Salem, North Carolina and I’m majoring in People. In my free time, I enjoy blah blah blah. Around campus, I’m involved in blah blah blah. Last summer I did blah blah blah. This summer I’m doing blah blah blah. You should totally ask me more about my major, because I am so fulfilled and happy.
What are you majoring in?