I can’t globalize to all small, and all relatively larger schools, but I can say that Duke and Amherst are akin to plants. We, the students, are little buds growing in our pots, looking to spend time and connect with other little buds. At Amherst, they do a better job of tending the soil, making sure that sunlight hits everyone’s pot, and clustering students in pots of just the right size. And there are no “special pots.” At Duke, everyone is put in a tiny pot, the soil is a little dry, and its up to us to migrate”¦ and all around we see big pots that look really great from the outside, but a sign says “to grow here you must be X,Y,Z” So you get a bunch of little plants trying to satisfy the requirements of the “special” pots, which results in a lot of similar behavior and the sense of needing to meet certain standards. And in this rush, these buds forget to keep in check with their own sunlight, and soil.

But in getting a little thirsty, a little withered, or finally taking notice of what is directly around them, to survive, Duke pots must learn to take care of themselves. I’m not saying that this epiphany comes to everyone, but I think that adversity, or more challenging life experience, breeds greater wisdom and resilience. Timing varies, and some might never learn to take care of themselves, or never be aware of the soil they are growing in because the soil in the “special” pot looks so wonderful, but the challenge is the same for all of us. So in this light, a larger, more impersonal school might be that more challenging environment that allows us to grow as people, allows us to stumble upon self awareness. I have learned this recently myself, and am still surprised at how many people don’t seem to think about the idea of taking care of themselves.

You have to take care of yourself, because when it comes down to it, that’s what you have. If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s going to be very challenging to help others, and the idea of a deux ex machina swooping in and saving you is a lovely one, and stops there. It’s very common to point an inward finger of blame and criticism when something goes wrong, and add another layer of negativity to your situation, but do you need it there? I can also imagine being so used to having other people take care of you, that in absence of these people, you are rendered helpless. It all comes down to that idea of the balance of giving and taking energy. Not knowing how to take care of yourself and relying on others, you take too much, and not knowing how to take care of yourself and striving to impress others with hopes of filling your emptiness, you probably give too much.

There are plenty of people that might not like you, that you might not get along with, and that’s OK. There are plenty of bad days, and things get messed up every once in a while. This means”¦ drumroll that we are human. And something that seems obvious but is equally surprising is the idea that when you take care of yourself, other pots want to grow near you, and all of a sudden, you have a different perspective about those pots that seemed so special when you were just a bud.

So, might we be preparing for the real world? Without having solid roots and a sense of self, I think that it’s hard to grow at all. It is easy to think that most of what we need, what we want, is outside of our pots, and not with us in time and space. But if you look down, everything that you need is already there, you just have to really see it.