Make Meaning in Community

Welcome to Duke and Durham, two incredibly beautiful places intertwined with one another, both eager to get to know you. I imagine news of your acceptance to Duke was exciting and full of possibilities – or perhaps your excitement was tempered with concerns about how to find your place in a new home and balance the demands of a Duke education. While such fears could give way to loneliness, it was echoed in convocation that as a student at Duke, you are not alone. There are people and resources here dedicated to creating a space in which each student can thrive. You have now joined a vibrant, welcoming community full of opportunities to grow, learn and connect with others – not only here at Duke but also in Durham.

As a member of this community, you can find deep meaning in your education here, to discover more about who you are and the world around you. A wonderful place to begin is getting to know the community and people right here. Of course, you will have the opportunity to build relationships with students, faculty and staff at Duke. But we hope you will stretch beyond Duke to explore opportunities connecting you in partnerships with people and organizations beyond the campus.

Duke offers many opportunities to get involved with options across a wide spectrum of focus areas, locations, and levels of engagement. Consider service-learning as an opportunity to apply learning from the classroom to relevant community efforts. Or commit to serving in local schools through America Reads/America Counts or Partners for Success. Match your volunteer interests with local organizations at the Community Service Center, or find a service minded student organization through Duke Partnership for Service. Immerse yourself in service and in community through DukeEngage or delve into service and leadership through the Hart Leadership Program. The opportunities continue throughout your time at Duke, possibilities for community-based research with Bass Connections or through public sector internships.

As you engage with others on and off campus, I encourage you to think deeply about your role in our evolving society and to reflect upon what you can learn from community leaders. There is a wealth of knowledge, insight and experience in Duke and Durham, and your learning will certainly extend beyond the bounds of the classroom. I have found that in moving beyond the campus, I have learned a tremendous amount from those leading change in our communities. Alexandra Zagbayou, Executive Director of Student U — a college access program providing academic enrichment and direct services to students in Durham — has taught me to invest in deep and sustained relationships with those you are serving. When I watch her interact with the children and families with whom she works, I can clearly see the love and trust that has been built by the work of many people over many, many years. This is a deep truth that often is overlooked in a world that seems to value quick results over process and relationships. I’m grateful to have Alexandra and her predecessor, Dan Kimberg ‘07, as two people who have been my teachers in the way I think about myself and my work in this world.

The year is just beginning, the possibilities are innumerable. Consider how you can be a part of a community, discover more about yourself and how you can participate in meaningful work to make the world a better, more just place.

-Leslie Parkins, Assistant Director for the Duke Office of Civic Engagement