There are few chances in life to start over, to leave everything negative behind and move on. On the third day of my Duke experience, I let everything go. I told a group of near strangers everything about myself. I talked about my hopes and dreams, my family and my experience growing up. I held nothing back, I told them about my biggest fears and my greatest insecurities. In those seemingly endless two hours, I left myself exposed, vulnerable, but not alone. When I finished telling the story of my life, they asked me dozens of questions. Some were deeply personal and some were ridiculous and funny. At the end, these people knew me, truly knew me. Even now, months after that night, I remember, in vivid detail, everything that was said in that room. I have never felt more liberated than I did in those moments.
I had this experience on Project Waves, a pre-orientation program in which a group of 80 random incoming first years spend a week in Beaufort, NC. Each crew of 8 first-years and several staff members spends each night of the trip doing hot seats. In these intimate experiences, we create unbreakable bonds and learn everything about each other. They only work if each person comes into the experience prepared to share absolutely everything. I knew this, and it made me incredibly nervous. I had never opened up to anyone all the way, and the idea of doing so all at once was terrifying. In hindsight, I realize that not knowing the other people in my crew very well actually made it easier. I was a blank slate that needed filling in. Anything I said in my hot seat would not change their perception of me because they did not have one to begin with. Although I should have known better, I was still ridiculously nervous in the hours leading up to my hot seat. I had convinced myself, in my insecurity, that something about me would make them hate me. I felt the same way that I did before cross-country races in high school, nauseous and scared. As soon as I began, just like with those races, all of my nervousness disappeared.
As the week went on, and more and more of my crew shared their hot seats, we kept growing closer. In these intimate moments by the ocean, we laughed, we cried and we learned absolutely everything about each other. Through our hot seats, we became a family; united by circumstance and bound together by our shared vulnerability. At the end of the week, while sleeping on the beach under the stars, I felt connected to my crew in a deeply personal way. Today, even months after arriving at Duke, this feeling has not faded. I still feel as connected to my crew as I did back on that beach. While we do not spend every waking second of every day together like we did on Pwaves, when we reunite, it always feels like catching up with family.
Vulnerability is powerful, and going through an experience like this shaped almost everything about my transition to college. By putting myself out of my comfort zone, I had the chance to figure myself out before even arriving on campus. I hope that in the future, Duke finds a way to create these kinds of experiences for everyone. By creating enough pre-orientation programs for each student or by having hot seats integrated into FAC chats, Duke could foster a deeper sense of community into each first-year class. My hot seat was one of the most important things I have ever done.