I graduated from Duke a week ago, and until now, I haven’t let myself process it. What did I learn these four years? How have I changed?
But now I am sitting on an overnight flight as I begin an around-the-world trip for the summer, and I’m hit by the reality of it all. I’m hit by the answers to those questions.
Three of my four years at Duke were positive. I would not trade them for anything. I found countless friends and mentors, loved my classes, and grew so much personally, professionally, spiritually, and academically.
One of my four years at Duke was negative. But I also would not trade it for anything. I learned my vices, my weaknesses, when it’s right to walk away or hang on, how to know when someone is being a good friend or not, when to reevaluate the very essence of how you are living day to day, and even the very purpose of living. Sometimes that negative year clouds out the other three positive ones. Sometimes I am sad, angry, bitter and frustrated that my Duke experience included this hiccup year.
But I think we all experience a hiccup period in college. When we look back, we lump it in with other wonderful experiences and tell everyone it was the best four years of our lives. But deep down we know we experienced some hard times, too. We just don’t want to dwell on them.
College WAS the best four years of my life, but not because I enjoyed every minute. That’s the misunderstanding, I think. I came into college expecting it to be the best four years of my life because of how fun it was supposed to be. My expectations were high, and when times got tough, I felt let down. But that’s just it. I had the wrong expectations. Because college WAS the best four years of my life, just not because it was fun. It was the best because of how it taught me to be a stronger, wiser, more authentic and more vulnerable person. College was the best because I was thrown into an intense environment where I was forced to dig inside myself, come to terms with who I really am, and either be okay with who that person is or actively work on changing.
I think of myself freshman, junior and senior years. I traveled a lot, found fun adventures, made amazing friends, invested in people over school— a healthy amount of people, the right people. I wrote and reflected a lot, built confidence in who I am and who I’m not, tried new things and fell in love with some of my classes. I had the time of my life.
I think of myself sophomore year, my hiccup year. I was so sick, mentally and physically. I was also in a ridiculously difficult courseload for both semesters, lonely, and socially felt out of place. Suddenly many of the friends I thought I was close to did not want to be my friend. Some of my struggles sophomore year were my own fault. I take responsibility for those. I pushed certain people out because I was hurting, sick, overwhelmed and exhausted. I let the wrong people in because, well, I was hurting, sick, overwhelmed and exhausted. I pushed myself too hard academically; it was a coping mechanism. I retreated inside my lonely apartment, another coping mechanism. I regimented my daily life, a huge coping mechanism. I did not choose fun and I was frequently a bad friend.
But some of my sophomore year struggles were not my fault. Some of them were simply the downs in a roller coaster life, a product of my environment, circumstantial, others’ issues projected onto me, unfortunate situations. And that’s okay. I don’t blame others, my environment or myself for my rocky year. I am simply acknowledging the truth of it all.
And I am acknowledging how beautiful it is to be broken. Oh how beautiful it is that others are broken, too. I could not look at myself in the mirror four years later and feel proud of who I have become and who I want to be were it not for my mistakes, my brokenness. I could not graduate from this university and hold my head high without knowing I conquered real, intense challenges. That I failed often.
I am going to miss Duke a lot. I will miss my mentors, having my friends all in one place, the beautiful gothic buildings, living in North Carolina, the Durham restaurant scene.
But I am so excited about my new chapter, and that’s because Duke prepared me for it. Duke gave me the confidence, authenticity, vulnerability, friendships, mentorship, opportunities, knowledge and wisdom to feel secure in who I am and who I want to be in this next chapter. That preparation definitely came at a cost. I did not have fun every minute. I let people down. I hurt people; I hurt myself. I had to look inside myself and reevaluate often.
But it was so worth it. And that, friends, is why I am Forever Duke. I am Forever Duke because Duke taught me how to be Forever Me, even in the toughest of challenges. I wouldn’t trade learning that lesson for anything. Duke also taught me to find fun, friends, mentors, and academic and professional pursuits in the midst of challenges. I am leaving this university with some of the truest and most real friendships. I am leaving this university with a level of empathy, respect, vulnerability and humility that I never thought I could possess. I am leaving this university with real professional opportunities. I am leaving this university with a network of people who want to change the world. I am leaving this university confident that I, and all of the class of 2018, CAN change the world.
I am leaving this university with real confidence that I am Hope: silly and nerdy and genuine, who sometimes loves too much, cares too much, tries too much, wishes too much, reflects too much and hurts too much. Hope, who discovers new passions all the time, loves to write, finds fun in going on crazy travel adventures, trying difficult fitness classes, and eating at new restaurants. Hope, who makes a lot of mistakes, lets people down, can’t be enough for everyone or everything, and who has a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes left to make.
So, what did I learn these four years? I learned how to be me. And what else could you possibly expect a university to teach you? So thank you, Duke, for meeting my wildest expectations. Thank you for making college the best four years of my life for all the right reasons.