Sunday, October 23, 2011

The College Quest--Part VI: Duke Schmuke

   I was early on the road of the college quest. Lining the path were several schools, some bigger than others, and some closer to the path than others. Farther down the road, things began to slope upward to a magnificent hill. The other schools began to drop away, and as I went farther down the path toward the hill, only one institution remained. At the top of the hill, Gothic architecture gloriously apparent even from the humble valley I stood in, sat Duke University.
   This was the big one. The number one. The ace that would turn my cards into sure winners. This is where I wanted to go. This is the visit that I had been waiting for amidst all the others. I wanted to go to Duke.
   I wish I did not have to be this guy, but I wore a blue shirt for my Duke visit. Trust me, a kiss-ass was the last thing I wanted to be, but this one was important. I would find a bigger kiss-ass, I was sure. This is Duke for crying out loud, it seems like everyone is looking at this place. When I walked into the info-sesh, I found out that everyone meant everyone.
   You think Arizona had any sort of props here, like it did at UVA or Davidson? Hell no. There were girls here from Beijing who looked like they were going to be UN delegates one day, there were dudes from Prague who were probably already building some sort of manservant robot that ran on toothpaste or some crap like that, and there were still other kids asking what kind of opportunities Duke presented to environmental engineers. The speaker had not even started talking and I was already freaking out. Geez, I want to be journalist or a writer, and what the hell is that when compared to freaking Einstein in the next row? I almost felt lazy.
   In listening to the speaker, one thing was apparent: Duke knew it was awesome. Duke has the best kids. Duke has the best teachers. Duke has the best vibe and spirit. Duke has the best sports environment. Duke has the best-looking women (Okay, maybe he did not say that, but he might as well have). It almost was obnoxious, and maybe other schools say the same thing, but there was something different about the way this guy was talking about the school. It was if we should have known it all already. Looking around, it seemed like everyone did know it already. Was I the only one here who was keeping a relatively open mind about college?
   This environment would set the tone for my visit, and I would see later on that the people visiting alongside me would very accurately reflect the Duke students. But until then, a few things would stand out. First, Duke has a clear commitment to diversity, but it is in a really weird way. We were informed that they were making a clear commitment to the Northeast portion of the country, with a heavy emphasis on New England. The insinuation was that the university was looking for kids from wealthy families from New York or Connecticut who could essentially make their own way.
   Another thing: Duke’s incoming class this year was 26% Asian. This is not a coincidence. Duke wants a certain demographic, and they are pursuing it. All it means to an uninteresting white guy like me is a taller hurdle to jump. Better start stretching.
   So after my self-esteem was positively bulldozed by the info-sesh, I was given the opportunity to enjoy a closer look at the campus that as of right then seemed about as close as Mount Doom probably felt to Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring. It felt like I would have better luck seeking out Mordor, anyway. I could climb the volcano and throw away any notions I ever had of being accepted into a good school. But I can only dream . . .
   You know how every school tries to be hip and cool and say their campus looks like Hogwarts? Half the time this is a load of gobbledeegook (if you understood that reference, good job. If not, just know I already consider myself a nerd), but when Duke says anything about bearing a resemblance to the wizarding school, believe it. The place is sweet. The gothic architecture is awesome, and as you go farther away from the main pod, the buildings transition to a sleek modern look. It was probably the nicest campus I saw on my whole trip, and every campus we saw was pretty darn nice.
   Our tour guide took any hope I had of Duke redeeming itself and crushed it in her horribly boring fist. She must have compared notes with the Wake Forest chick; it was awful. My dad and I started a pool to see how many times she would change her facial expression. It really showed how important it is to have a good tour guide. It was not quite a huge factor at Wake, but here it only made an awkward situation worse.
   Duke prides itself on being an exceptional research institution. You hear this from a lot of schools, and it does not become any more appealing each time. Seriously, who the hell wants to do research, in addition to all their classes and homework? I do not understand at all where this notion came from that people want to go out and do some research while they are in college.
   In any case, at Duke you are going to give yourself a fine education, so the academics were not the kicker for me. What did Duke in, ultimately, was the vibe it gave off on campus. What I took away from Duke was a place that was competitive and cutthroat, and not really a place where you can just relax and hang out. It felt like everyone spent their time trying to push ahead of everyone else, and it was hard to imagine myself (I consider myself very laid-back, my parents would probably argue that I am too laid-back, but I suppose you cannot please everybody) having a good time with people for a good time’s sake. It was a drag to say the least.
   I will come right out and say it: Duke is off my list. It simply is not the right atmosphere for me, but there are some things you might be able to take away from it.
   For one, Duke has killer athletics. Cameron Indoor Stadium is incredible (we snuck in and shot some hoops, the girls’ basketball team was less than pleased with us), and the basketball culture that has been built by Coach K has grown into something that is either really passionate to those who support it or really, really annoying to everyone else. People that go here love this place; it is as simple as that.
   I usually do one of those little “What Jumped Out” deals, but since Duke turned out to be the biggest flop since Kyrie Irving’s academics (zing), I will skip over it this time (Speaking of Irving, we saw the guy. He was in the library. Well, he was leaving the library. Probably sick of studying for a class he had flunked during the year). You should just know that Duke offers a ton of opportunities in the educational world and has a terrific athletic environment.
   But at the end of the day, Duke was not the right fit for me. The campus vibe was just too weird, and seemed to conflict too much with my personality (all of this makes it sound like I am looking for a soul mate and not a college, but I guess if we are making that comparison, Duke is like that really hot trophy wife who looks great on the outside but sometimes you just really wish she would shut up about that awful dress Stacey wore to that party Saturday night). There was definitely a Duke look: all guys wore khaki shorts, polos, and lugged around black backpacks. The short haircuts too did not quite match up to what is referred to by some of my classmates as my “flow” (I don’t ask for this, people). Basically Duke was a swing and a miss, and my number one school went from the top spot to completely off of my list.
   So you probably expect something really good for the kiss-ass award. Here is what I will tell you: everyone here is a kiss-ass. Duke won the kiss-ass World Cup.

Those are the athletic facilities to my right. They made me wish I was an athlete.

Cameron Indoor. Sink a free throw here and you can consider your basketball bucket list complete.

 Krzyzewskiville. Don’t mispronounce it. They’ll kill you.

You see this road? This road leads to Tyler Daswick’s social hell. Welcome.

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