Duke Graduation 2011

Note: This post was originally published in May, 2011 after graduation exercises at Duke University in Durham, NC.

Duke Graduation 2011

So I really did not think that I would be graduating from Duke and on time. Go figure. It has been an insane four years, especially the last two.  But in May, I walked in Commencement exercises at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium.

Duke Graduation Cliff Satell

Duke 2011 Commencement ceremony
Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography

I can’t say I’ll miss you, Duke.  But I can say I’ve grown immensely and learned more than I thought possible, though most of that happened far outside the classroom.  The best aspects of Duke are, in order: the Gardens, the buildings and the faculty (at least the ones I had, with only one exception).  Living on Central Campus right next to the Gardens is like having my own personal Versailles in my backyard and makes for a pleasant walk to class, the gym or any other event on West Campus.

I am excited to be moving on to the next chapter of life after graduation, wherever that is.  I know for sure it won’t occur in Durham, NC. Or any other city south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Duke’s got a lot of issues to work out, not the least of which is the social makeup of campus life.  The alcohol-fueled frat culture, the institutional arrogance, the stubborn rigidity that permeates much of the administration all contribute to the experience of every Duke student.  While most can either work within that system and conform to survive, some are left behind and discarded by the system for daring to even toe the line, let alone take the risk of asking questions and living life in pursuit of one’s own happiness.

But that’s okay.  Even those negative aspects have made the Duke experience worth it because, at the very least, I know I have been able to confront and overcome many absurdities and challenges that will serve me well in the future.  I didn’t win any national championship, I didn’t earn any prestigious fellowships or thesis awards and I hardly won any popularity contests among the student body during my time at Duke. But who wants to peak at age 20, 21 or 22? I would consider myself a failure and arrest myself if I look back from my death-bed and reminisce about the “best four years of my life” being these youthful years.  This should be the utmost beginning – far from a culmination – of great times.  I’m looking forward, not backward.  No matter what I am called in the future, no matter what slander is thrown at me, no matter what institutional barriers I face in whatever career I find myself in I will know for certain that I have the strength and the ability to deal with it. No question in my mind.  That’s the beauty of early hardships.

Cause if you aren’t suffering in your teens, you will never be able to celebrate in your 70′s.  The most successful people in our society are those that suffered in some way, shape or form early in their lives. Of course, “suffering” is the epitome of a relative term. One man’s suffering is another man’s challenge or opportunity.  I did not grow up in poverty like some of my peers and some of my idols in life. But there are other forms of pain and other forms of challenges, to be sure.  I look forward with nothing but pure anticipation to the next chapters of life.  I hope they are hard.  I have no idea how hard, but I do know I will have faced far worse before.  And I will know I can beat it.  Those who know nothing but success and fun in life cannot say the same.

And, in the end, that is the value of my Duke education.  That will be the lesson I take with me, not the endless tomes of political philosophy or legislative strategies that I have had the “pleasure” of reading.  Not the names, dates or events that I’ve studied in detail or been forced to compare and contrast.  Those are fleeting.  Those are merely tools and should not be regarded as ends. I came to college to learn first and foremost about myself: what my limits were, what I was capable of and what could stop me.  And I discovered more than I ever bargained for by putting myself out there and choosing to grow.  That is what I charged myself to do and I am proud to say I exceeded the toughest expectations: my own.

So I’m glad I could take part in Duke’s graduation ceremony.  I can’t say it was particularly fun or memorable, but graduation meant moving on from Duke and all that it entailed.  Graduation meant a certain liberty, though not without a valuable scarring.  But above all, graduation meant I had earned a Duke degree and nobody can take that away.

Duke Logo Cliff Satell


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