Yesterday, before we left Duke, Jesse and I were walking across the quad to get some dinner and stock up on toiletries and Vitamin Waters at Duke’s campus shop – using our generous daily allotment of Duke money – before hitting the road. It started to rain, and I looked up into the hot sky, welcoming the feel of something other than sun on my shoulders. It hit me that, while I was ready to leave this summer job, I was pretty damn lucky to have been so well taken care the past six weeks. Here I am, I thought, a recent college grad being given a roof over my head, three meals a day, a salary, and enough shaving cream and toothpaste to last me my next ten adventures. Duke’s been a pretty sweet gig. Paying for things with real money in the real world will hurt us staff members tomorrow.
One of the best moments of this job for me was when one of “my” students, Marley, announced in our nightly meeting, “Today was deciding factor. I know I want to be an architect – a green architect.” When I heard that, I felt something akin to what I’m sure teachers and professors feel when their students have discovered something about themselves, or have questioned their way to an answer that invigorates them. I may not have had any influence on Marley’s career decision, but it’s really humbling to see someone get so fired up after learning and studying something, to see them come away from it so, so excited – especially when you’ve been part of that process in some way. I have experienced that feeling so many times as a student over the years, but this was one of the first times I felt like I was on the side of the teacher, or mentor. I know my fellow staff members had similar moments, and I’m proud to call us a team.
These students are talented in so many areas of life, and it has continued to blow me away. At the second session Duke TIP talent show, a young man named Christian calmly walked on to the stage, took a seat behind the piano, poised his fingers, and let them fly. I have never reacted so strongly to piano playing; Christian was easily the most stunning and talented piano player I have ever seen perform in person. I can’t remember if he played Chopin or Rachmaninoff (I know I asked, though), but I remember thinking – very unpoetically – How is it possible someone can make that instrument produce those sounds? Later that week, sitting next to him at the Durham Bulls baseball game, I asked him about his playing. I asked him why he loved it. “The music expresses some emotion inside me that can’t be expressed with words,” he said, his eyes scanning the baseball diamond below. “It’s a part of me,“ he continued, smiling slightly. Christian is going to Vanderbilt in the fall. I hope their pianos are prepared.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Myers-Brigg test and analysis, and I’ve been talking about personality types with some faculty members here at Duke. I am a moderate ENFJ, and have been every time I’ve taken the test. This means I am of the “Idealist” temperament, and my specific type – E-N-F-J – is known as “The Teacher.” We “Teachers,” they say, “enjoy being capable of calling forth learner’s potentials, firing up imaginations, and often inspiring confidence in students.” I don’t mean to say I do all of these things, of course, but it is nice to read different literature on my specific Myers-Brigg personality type and see just how well it seems to fit me. Sometimes, we don’t realize what we are inclined towards or really enjoy doing until we are very decisively placed in a position that calls us to step up to the plate, in a sense. I’ve always loved the interpersonal connections I’ve had while serving as a mentor in any capacity, and this experience working at Duke has been no exception. I’ve really enjoyed getting close with my students, giving them advice about college, helping them work through issues. As I get ready for my next adventure, I realize this is not a role I may find myself in (at least probably not in a professional capacity) for a while, so I’m taking the time now to recognize what this job has helped me learn about myself.
Like the fact that I can have a lot of fun getting on stage and singing songs with someone:
And how capable I am of parking MONSTER cars like this:
Yeah. Being challenged maneuvering those unnecessarily gigantic vehicles all summer was a big growth opportunity for me. This summer will hereby be remembered as The Summer I Conquered Durham in SUVs. And I am damn proud!
And it was a challenge being myself in an environment that was not all that stimulating for me. I’m craving creative outlets, and as much as I’d like to say I can write and create anywhere, no matter the environment, I’m learning that’s not quite the case for me. At least, not yet. I graduated from Elon a budding creative writer, a “new” student of writing, and I’m still trying to find my writing feet and hone my style. I am one who needs people around me to help me hold myself accountable; I need a community of people who push me as they push themselves, a circle of intellectuals who engage and challenge me. I realize I am not always going to have this, and I refuse to be tempted to go straight to graduate school in order to be in that safe environment again. It’s time for me to more actively seek the motivation and inspiration I need to be my best self. I believe I can find that in environments besides academic ones, and right now, that’s what I’m after.
And, that said, it’s time to hit the road again. Elon, Asheville, D.C., Chicago, Pennsylvania, & New York – here we come!