what i wish i'd known
By Claire Kraemer
Dear freshman year Claire,
There are some things I wish you knew. And now, in this parallel universe where I’m able to write you a letter in the first few weeks of school, I will impart this wisdom unto you.
The days are slow, but the years are fast.
Time is strange here at Duke, and at college in general. An hour in an Econ 101 lecture can feel like a lifetime, but then you’ll look up from your notebook and it's your first day of senior year. You’ll hear “Time flies!” from all the older kids you meet, but I’ll tell you things I’ve learned that helped me appreciate exactly where I am, to make time pause for even a second.
Find a way to capture things, but do it just for yourself. Journal, take videos, or record a voice memo. The medium doesn’t matter, but in a few years you’ll look back at them with a sense of unimaginable joy: a 3 am trip to Cosmic Cantina or chowing down within the walls of GA 119.
Make time to breathe. Take a coffee break with friends to get some sunshine outside of Perkins, sit at a booth in Marketplace on Sunday for hours on end and watch the rotation of freshmen cycle through. Take a photo of the sunset over the Chapel, even if it’s cheesy. Follow through with your friends and actually go have that dinner you’ve been planning for the past month.
Give space for the unexpected plans. Sit a little bit longer than you had originally anticipated. Say yes to joining someone on an adventure. My greatest memories at Duke weren’t from a party I had been looking forward to all week, but from the afternoons I spent procrastinating my work outside of WU with my best friends.
Explore all of what Duke and Durham has to offer. Go to athletic games that aren’t just men’s basketball. I’m embarrassed to say I went to my first women’s athletics game the first week of my senior year, and I should’ve gone earlier. Now I can’t wait to go to more. Go to Hoof n’ Horn performances. Acapella shows. Go to the Durham Farmers Market. I know you’re hungover on a Saturday but seeing real people lead lives outside the BC Plaza somehow orients the rest of the week. Go to the Lemur Center (I haven’t been yet, but you know, you should go at some point). Go to the Eno and touch some grass.
I always get nervous when time passes me by. It makes me anxious to think of leaving Durham behind, but I have to remind myself that the days are still slow. Even as a washed-up senior, there’s still time to go to Maple View and Hanging Rock.
You’re here, so take advantage of it.
I always worried that I arrived at Duke by accident. There had been a mistake, certainly. The names were switched. They meant to let in the girl with the perfect GPA, who took BC Calculus instead of the “lowly” AB Calculus I did.
But slowly my perception has changed. You’re here, so even if they did switch up the names, they can’t do anything about it now. So use it.
Ask questions in your classes, even if you’re embarrassed. Especially if you’re embarrassed. Flunch your professors.. And don’t just do it to have them write you a letter of recommendation, if anything, just for a free meal at The Commons.. Do it because your professors are genuinely interesting people, and most of them would love to tell you about themselves.
Try everything. Take classes that have no perceived academic or professional value to you. They will end up being the thing that excites you the most in your day, and where you feel the freedom to learn for learning's sake. One of those classes might lead you to a genuine passion, or you might just learn some cool moves in Modern Dance.
You’ll often feel like you’re on a rollercoaster.
You’ll doubt yourself and then you’ll feel validated. You’ll cry, you’ll pee yourself laughing. You’ll feel really dumb in one of your classes and you’ll feel like a genuis in another. You’ll find love and you’ll get your heart broken.
In those moments of sadness, please don’t isolate yourself. It might feel easier because you don’t want to burden other people, but please don’t sit in your room and rot away watching a variation of New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, and The Office on repeat. You know how they all end. That feeling of security is fleeting.
Your friends are around the corner. It’s the last time that people are so accessible to you, so reach out to them. You will think that there’s no way other people will understand what you’re going through, but the simple act of inviting them to share those feelings with you will lift some weight off your shoulders.
The people make the place.
Duke offers a plethora of people, just under 7,000, for you to choose to spend your time with. Coming from a school of 120 kids you will feel overwhelmed. But, I have some things for you to think about as you forge your new friendships.
Who makes you feel more positive each time you see them? Who fills you up, instead of putting you down? Who has energy you find yourself gravitating towards, versus who you think you “should be” friends with? Who do you not tire of? The people that you are thinking of are the ones you should reach out to. It’s scary at first, but I promise it’s worth it. Everyone’s looking for new connections, and you won’t find your people if you’re afraid to put yourself out there.
Introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Grab lunch with classmates. Some of my greatest friendships were solidified in bonding over a horrible professor. Freshman year isn’t a time to close your circle. You will benefit from your ability to include others, whether it’s going to Marketplace brunch or pregaming before Shooters. Over time, you can strengthen relationships and groups, but now is a time for meeting as many people as possible and seeing who you’re most yourself around.
Unfortunately, you’ll fall out of touch with people. You’ll stop seeing them as much, because it’s awkward when you do or simply because you grew apart. It’ll hurt when you see the “one year ago today’s” on snapchat and it’s someone you genuinely miss having around. You also might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and although that doesn’t meet your deep desire to have everyone adore you, that’s ok too.
Still, this year I got a “three years ago today” on the day I met two of my best friends after getting too drunk during orientation and missing the “Class of 2023” picture on the quad. Some people stick around for all four years. You actually end up starting a publication with one of them.
You’ll even meet people the second semester of junior year who you become so close to it becomes strange when you don’t see them for an entire day. You have family dinners every Sunday where you recap your rose, bud, thorns of the week.
You’ll find a balance between old friends and new, and each is wonderful in their own right.
The people are what make this place so special. They’re what made it so hard to be away from campus in quarantine, and who will make it so hard to leave in May. But, they’re also the only living breathing things that you can take away from Duke to remind you of the times you’ve spent here.
Don’t be so eager to grow up, because one day you’ll be writing this as you wait for your laundry to finish in your senior year apartment, looking fondly at how young and bright eyed you were. For as cringey as you are, and you really are, I like to look through your eyes when I’m feeling a bit jaded and remember how lucky I am to still be here.
Even if it’s only for one more year.
Best of luck,