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Love, Lillith: How to Live With So Many Smart People, and Other Important but Often Unheard Tidbits of Advice

In welcoming you to Duke, Guns N’ Roses says it best with their intimidatingly simple song title, “Welcome to the Jungle.” Duke, like any college, is a scary unknown to all incoming freshmen. But if you learn not to be too daunted by it, and to embrace all the proverbial lions and tigers and bears that come your way, by the end of your first year at Duke you will be going beast-mode. Alright, enough of the tacky symbolism. To make the process of acclimating to your profoundly different and new life a bit easier, I have some excellent how-to advice and recommendations not found in your Blue Book that I learned from my freshmen year and sincerely wish someone had given me beforehand.

Learn how to live with so many smart people

If you pay close attention during O-Week, you will realize that you have been hearing several dozen SAT scores that, come to think of it, you never actually asked for. The rate at which these are gratuitously provided to you increases with statistic significance following President Broadhead’s traditional convocation speech to incoming freshmen in the Chapel. At this time, he makes excellent use of his skill in making you feel simultaneously very smart and very stupid when he divulges to your class what percentage of valedictorians and perfect SAT score recipients were denied admission, and then highlights the achievements of specific students amongst your class; which one appeared on the cover of Time, which one started a multi-million dollar corporation, and which one is single-handedly responsible for feeding thousands of the starving children in Africa… except none of those people were you. And you may have gotten in, but you also weren’t a valedictorian or a perfect SAT score recipient. You question if you read your acceptance letter right. How the hell did I get in here?!?? You’ll ask yourself. I promise you, just because you didn’t do something big and flashy, or rank high on a number scale, you are smart, and you are special. And Duke obviously knows it.

And don’t worry, because many other people are questioning themselves too. Throughout your time here, people will be so caught up trying to prove that they are smart. Take it as a compliment that they should want to prove to you that they are as worthy as you are to be here. I swear, probably two dozen people asked me during O-Week why I thought I got in. You will probably be asked this too at some point. Just tell whoever’s asking that you’re obviously the bomb, and that’s why. End of story.

At Duke there is a good chance you will no longer be the smartest kid in school. The people who were getting the highest grades in high school cry for joy when they pass their orgo exam, just because this time they’re not on the bottom half of the curve. You will succeed if you embrace the challenge. I love Duke most because of the people here. You can have a meaningful, intelligent conversation with literally ANYONE. And you might feel insecure at times, but channel that insecurity to drive you to work harder and be the best that you can be. Remember, it’s better to be the lesser among great individuals than the greater among lesser individuals.

Don’t sweat it if you don’t fit the Duke stereotype

I don’t, and I love it here. Go figure. Remember, this is not high school. There is not much of a social hierarchy. I was considered the most “hipster” in my freshmen dorm, and I ended up briefly dating and then later becoming very close friends with the most “prepster” kid in my dorm. If you give each other a chance, (and you will come to see that many people at Duke want to give you that chance) you will find that some of the most fascinating people to talk to are the people who are out of your comfort zone. Many people at Duke are hesitant to do this. You will also find that, unfortunately, ethnic groups at Duke tend to segregate themselves. But note here that I said they segregate themselves, not each other. When people explore relationships outside of their “group,” they almost always find something of interest out there. 

My roommate from freshman year is a difference race than I am, and we probably would never have talked to each other if we hadn’t been forced to live together freshman year. But we are so thankful that we were– we are— still rooming together now and are very close friends. Other tidbits I’ve noticed: 1.) If you listen to any music that is not COMPLETELY mainstream you are automatically a hipster. 2.) Even if you’re like me and like scruffy boys who don’t wear Ralph Lauren like everyone else on campus, I must admit, the Sperry’s and salmon-colored shorts (Nantucket red if you want to be expertly preppy about it) do grow on you. 3.) If you are one of those kids who likes to wear the shirts of their super expensive, super exclusive prep high schools, kids from public school will make fun of you behind your back. Of course I never did that.

Don’t be overwhelmed by finding friends

During the first few weeks of freshmen year, many students set about finding friends as if it were an academic task. Random strangers veer towards you with a frantic smile and force you to converse with them about nothing at all. It’s painful to watch and agonizing to experience. NOTE: this is not the correct way a human makes friends. Also, there is absolutely no relationship to the number of people you say hello to and the quantity/quality of friends you have at the end of the year. So don’t worry if all of the people practically bullying you with their friendliness actually make you less inclined to be social. Eventually everyone will chill out, and you will realize most of your friends were in your dorm all along. And don’t worry, you WILL find friends. Everyone does eventually.

If you commit dormcest, it is inevitable that everyone will find out sooner or later. 

That is all. There is no exception to this rule.

Chill out: You’re in college.

This is my last piece of advice, and maybe my most important. I remember that during the first semester of my freshmen year, the selective living group (SLG) Maxwell had a prep school party of sorts. Having grown up 15 minutes away from one of the top party schools in the nation, I didn’t even question that the order of the day was a sexy school girl getup. To my horror, when I arrived at the party, I found that a good number of freshmen had taken the theme literally and dressed up in their exact prep school uniforms from high school. I kid you not.

The point I’m making here is: YOU ARE IN COLLEGE. That obviously doesn’t mean that you should dress a certain way at a party because you think it’s expected of you even if it makes you uncomfortable, and it also definitely doesn’t mean that you should overindulge in your new-found freedom and become that freshman who goes too crazy with freedom and gets EMS-ed with alcohol poisoning the first week. But it does mean that you shouldn’t be afraid to step outside your box, to go a little crazy, to try new things, to make mistakes that you can learn from.

College is a time for finding yourself. Virtually no one at Duke knows who you were in high school, so don’t let that old you dictate who you have to be in college. Make sure you work hard, but at the same time don’t prostitute your life to your résumé and get tied down by 500 meaningless extracurriculars when you could be having fun and forming meaningful relationships with your peers.

Remember: Most of the truly important things you learn in college won’t be from a textbook.

Good luck, and have fun you new Blue Devil, you!

<3 Lilith

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