Graduating from a high school class of only 34 students sets one apart from their college peers. As I introduced myself to my new classmates during Orientation week at the beginning of the fall semester, I added this fact about myself to the routine name, dorm, and hometown list that was recited before thinking upon approaching each successive, wide-eyed freshman. After hearing remarks such as “that is so unconventional” and “how unique” from my new classmates, I have confirmed that this is a factor that does in fact distinguish me from my peers. However, this “unique” experience was never something that I thought twice about as I was unfamiliar with anything but intimate settings – I lived in a relatively small part of the foothills suburb of the not-so-huge city of Tucson, Arizona; spent my childhood in a 1 block radius that included my preschool, elementary school, and synagogue with friends who lived no more than 1 mile away from me; ventured on to a combined middle and high school totaling 300 students; joined a 10 person teen advisory council of a Jewish youth group that I still am active in; swam with the same girls in the medley relay each summer for 10 years; and grew up riding bikes with the same neighbors for 18 years. When I came to Duke, I was immediately overwhelmed by the 6,000 new faces that I would never know nearly as intimately as I had known those of each of my classmates in high school. At first, I assumed this overwhelming experience was one that each freshman was undergoing and that I would soon become accustomed to without much assistance. However, I soon realized that I depended on an intimate setting not as a crutch of comfort, but as an environment in which I thrived. I began to realize the significance of living next to the 30 other members of my Focus cluster that I also spent half of my classes with and ate weekly dinners with, seeing the same faces each week at the Freeman Center for Shabbat dinners and JFam activities, and the opportunity to expand such intimate settings across my entire 4 years at Duke through the Baldwin Scholars Program.
This one aspect of my identity that I wore like a nametag had never appeared unconventional to me in the least bit until I changed my surroundings. This is what attracted me to Baldwin: the ability to explore in an intimate environment of scholars that I thrive in while delving more into aspects of myself and of how I can be of service to society. I seek to expand and strengthen my connection with my fellow Baldwin peers during my four year journey of exploration and understanding of aspects of myself that I mistook for conventional, but actually set me apart. I am just as overwhelmed, yet eager, now to grow familiar with the 17 faces of the fellow Baldwin Class of 2016ers and each of the other members and program leaders as I was when I saw the 6,000 unfamiliar faces upon entering Duke’s campus last fall.