Two words, perhaps normal to the average passerby, jumped out to the two of us as we walked along the harbor after an enjoyable evening at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art: FREE FOOD. The most beautiful words college students will ever see, no matter the circumstance. We shrugged our shoulders, always up for another possible adventure, and ventured inside.
Eliza and I hadn’t even spotted the food before we heard a familiar shout: “Go Dukies!” Indeed, the first people to see us at this event were proud Duke parents and alumni whose daughter had graduated in May, no less from the same sorority as Eliza. One of the couple’s Duke friends is the father of one of my fraternity brothers. They are avid basketball fans, serve on an engineering board, always bleed blue… you know the rest. The couple had immediately spotted me, as I was sporting both my logo’d royal blue D hat and club tennis shirt. The four of us bonded quickly over mutual connections, interests, and even living spaces on the soon-defunct Central campus. Eliza and I experienced unbelievable luck when we walked into that space which should have been wholly unfamiliar. But we also experienced great privilege.
That blue Duke logo is more than a just a dark hue. It is a unifier, a common ground, a feeling of comfort and welcome for people across generations and across the world because of the inclusion it evokes. When Duke students walk into a room, as Eliza and I did that night, they are immediately identified as informed, respectable, and helpful citizens of the world. Others without the power of such a name are perceived quite differently, and as a result, ignored regardless of true capability.
The event we stumbled into was a fundraiser for the World Ocean School, an organization I had never heard of before that night. Within minutes of hearing about its mission, I felt extremely connected to the program and could easily see myself applying for a job there after graduation. World Ocean School takes place on a boat that travels back and forth between Boston and St. Croix, educating underserved children in both of these communities in an engaging, adventurous, life-changing way. The Duke alumni, donors to the World Ocean School, introduced me to four or five staff members who instantly encouraged me to get on board, both literally and figuratively, because of my passions for working with children, scuba diving, and the ocean.
Duke got my foot in that door. Simply because of the clothes I wore that day, I was instantly trusted and welcomed. My voice was heard in a space it truly had no reason to inhabit and new opportunities were presented to me without me having to show any sort of qualification. As we all continue our projects, internships, and service initiatives around the world, it is crucial that we remember how and why we got there. Duke, and by association, DukeEngage, have a reputation around the entire world of providing excellent assistance to underserved communities in need. It is easy for us to think that we know all the answers because of our elite university’s stellar academics, prestigious aura, and reputation that precedes us before we say a single word. It is an immense privilege to have the opportunity to help other communities and people become more self-sustainable, and we should not lose sight of our purpose for being here, wherever “here” may be.
Although I’m not sure if I agree, I’ve heard that someone cannot pour out water for others if his or her own glass is not already full. As participants of DukeEngage, all of our glasses are overflowing into the Boston Harbor, forming puddles around our shoes. Be mindful of where the water in your glass comes from and how you pour it out.