May 6, 2011

The Best and Worst Semester of My Life

Four months. Dozens of drinks. Hundreds of tears. A thousand smiles. And so many meaningful relationships formed. This has been my semester at Duke and it has been the worst and best semester of my college experience.

Why do you do what you do? This was the question I posed on my first blog post. The most uncomfortable part about being at Duke this semester was my inability to answer this question and others: Why did you act in that way—that is not you so why do you care if they like you or not? Why did you hook up with that guy—do you really like him in that way? Why are you involved in this organization—do you really believe in the work you are doing?

It has been the worst in many ways: I continuously struggled with being in love but knowing that I have to get over him; I witnessed self-destructive behavior and interpersonal violence in the forms of binge drinking and sexual assault; I dealt with extremely low self-esteem and guilt over being (what I thought of myself as) an unfit son, brother, and friend. I was dropped into new social circles and was left awake at night thinking, “I wonder if they like me or not…they probably don’t…” (it felt like my first-year of high school and college all over again); all of these things made me feel even more isolated and uncomfortable around people who identify as LGBTQ as I felt like I had to act in certain ways to fit in; many stereotypes regarding gay people were reinforced for me this semester…

It all kind of collapsed one night on the rocking chairs in the Plaza. I was a mess, and didn’t feel like going to bed because I was so tired of not wanting to wake up in the morning and face the world. I spilled out all of these feelings to my best friend, and he helped me by saying this: “Look, you may not want to get over some of this, but you have to—look to the future and what makes you excited, what makes you happy.” Duke necessarily wasn’t the reason why I felt like all of this, but it definitely was hard to be in a new environment with new people dealing with some old/new issues. I decided to go for a run that night (Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, right?) and underwent a pretty awesome catharsis.

That night was important because I drew from my past, assessed my present, and then ran towards the future. That run was a little more than a week ago, and has allowed me to think about the how my semester at Duke has been the best in countless ways—and though the negative parts of my semester were attributed to things that went beyond my semester at Duke, the positive aspects of my semester were rooted in the Blue Devil experience:

I made SO many AMAZING friends and built upon my existing friendships in meaningful, loving ways; I dived deep into my coursework and it has been the most enjoyable academic journey of my life; I relied on myself for things that I hadn’t previously; I broke down so many stereotypes about this place, especially in regards to Greek Life; I confronted my issues with not feeling like I “fit in” in this college gay culture and tried to even determine what gay culture was at Duke and at UNC to begin with; I was single for what felt like the first time during my college experience and, though it was hard, it was rewarding; and, finally, I realized how comfortable I was at Duke—how great it was to be able to walk to class and see a familiar face, or having friends to call and get dinner with! What a joy it is to have these experiences…

I see now that these are things that I will remember from my semester at Duke. Thus, here are my lasting thoughts, inspired by this quote I read in an article (can't remember the name of it...):
"We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one."
Regardless of being a student at Duke or UNC, you can get down in the dumps about a lot of things happening in life. The solution: find the beauty around you—whether this beauty is in the people you meet and the relationships formed, your classes and any knowledge gained, or the trees, flowers, and buildings that populate our universities. Challenge yourself to embrace the uncomfortable, but don’t do so in a way that forces you to detach from what makes you most like you. For me, it was my family, my friends (from Carolina and Duke), and swimming.

Even though it is a bittersweet end as I leave Duke to return to Carolina in the fall, I am so excited that there are so many opportunities for me to maintain what I experienced at Duke.

Cheers to a paradoxical semester—the best and worst four months of my life, each second spent learning about myself and others, cultivating pluralism along the way.

See you on the lighter (and arguably better) shade of blue,

A Tar Devil

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jagir! I know I didn't meet you in person this semester, but I liked reading this and wanted to reply.

    This is interesting, because this is effectively the biggest lesson I learned while studying abroad.

    In Spain, there is a quote that says the following:

    "Muchas veces perdemos las pequenas alegrias buscando la gran felicidad."

    "Often we lose small joy, because we're looking for The great happiness."

    Learning to enjoy the small stuff rocks! I'm totally with you on that.

    My first semester (actually, year) at Duke was really rough-a new enviornment and confronting your self-identity and self-esteem are so difficult. Especially when you combine them. Thanks for having the courage to write this on the blog, and I hope you visit Duke often. =)