Meet The Benjamin N. Duke Scholars
Laura Winn
Laura Winn
Laura Winn
Benjamin N. Duke Scholar 2017
Hometown: Stoneville, NC
Highschool: John Motley Morehead High School
Major: Program II- Biopsychosocial Determinants of Infectious Disease with a Focus on East Africa; Pre-Med

Laura's Bio

(8x + 3y) / ? = My College Decision

Since pretty much as far back as I can remember, I have had a plan. A plan for my life, a plan for my school year, a plan for what I would eat for lunch that day (ice-cream, please). I have meticulously recorded all meetings, classes, and even workouts into my, probably exhausted, IPhone calendar. I have penciled in every school assignment, test, and project, including the day-to-day steps for studying, in my blue and purple Barnes and Noble planner. I packed my lunch the night before; I laid my clothes out to wear the next morning. I had a systematic student council campaign, just as I had a systematic Science Olympiad study regimen. Everything was ordered, everything was pre-thought, everything was planned. You probably can guess by now, I was not exactly spontaneous (other BNs are probably laughing at me suggesting that right now).

To all my type a personalities out there, I am hoping you can feel for me. Everyone else, please refrain from passing judgment on my being crazy, I am not saying that I am not, I’m just saying get to know me a little more first.

I grew up in small town Eden, North Carolina, where I was extremely comfortable in my regimented routine. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t do the same thing all the time. I loved (and still do) cheerleading, soccer, Science Olympiad, student council, Key Club, Interact, and many other student groups. I volunteered in Guatemala and Kenya, and founded an annual soccer tournament in my hometown. I took (entirely too many) online AP classes because they were not offered at my high school, and there were so many more things that I wanted to learn. However, these were all things that I had control of. These were all situations in which, if I just worked hard enough, I knew I could succeed. These were all times where, yes, I pushed myself, and yes, I challenged my intellect and my body, but I was the one making the decisions. I was in the driver’s seat, and as my personality may reveal, this is exactly where I wanted to be. I was comfortable here.

And then came October of my senior year. It was time to apply to college, and the girl who had pre-thought everything, down to what uniform the cheerleading team would wear that week (the one with sparkles was my favorite), had no direction about what college to choose. All of my friends and teachers and family would ask where I wanted to apply, and I honestly could not give them an answer. It was not something I had put that much thought into—it was a subject I had avoided.

You see, applying to college meant giving up my control. It meant writing an application, perhaps going for an interview, portraying myself in the most authentic way as possible, but then just having to wait. Wait to see if I was accepted. Wait to see where I could go. Wait to hear what opportunities I would be provided based on the college I got into. And I was terrified. This was something that no amount of planning, no amount of forethought, could allow me to control. I had my high school experience, and now where I went to college was in the hands of some unknown admissions reader, and I just had to wait it out.

So I started researching universities, and just began the application process. CommonApp made it easier for me to test the waters by applying to several schools. I still was not sure what I wanted my college experience to be, I just knew that deadlines were approaching and that I needed to get on it. I applied for several universities and scholarships, and I pushed the decision out of my thoughts and continued with my comfortable senior year. On the first Friday in March, I left Latin class to meet my friends and eat my pre-packed lunch in the cafeteria. As I always do, I checked my email while walking down the hallway between my Latin class and my best friends’ English class, and I got an email form Duke University. I didn’t think much of it, I assumed it was more college spam that you get for putting your email address on the SAT answer sheet (why I did that I still do not know). When I opened the email in the hallway, I just stopped. I read it about thirty times or however fast you can read an email in the span of your friends walking towards you from three feet away before blurting out with excitement, “I got in to Duke!” In that email I did not just get a college acceptance letter, I regained control. I once again was able to make a decision, and I was so relieved to be back in that comfortable position. So I celebrated, laughed, and prepared for my finalist weekend at Duke.

By the time April came, I had already heard from every other college I had applied to. I had already gone to a similar finalist weekend and gotten good news, so I had begun to feel comfortable with the college admission process. I began to feel like this college thing could be planned too, and that I could actually schedule and manage the process. On the way to Durham, I was so excited to meet all the other finalists, because I knew exactly what the weekend would be like and had scheduled the activities in my calendar and had prepared in what way I thought I knew how to.

And then I got to Jenny’s house. I went outside to sit on the porch with the other finalists, and another BN said, “Can we talk about anything other than school?” This caught me off guard. Well what does she want to talk about? This is a scholarship finalist weekend. Is this not like the other weekends I have been to where I can plan what to say, what clubs to talk about, what classes were challenging, what I had done to set myself apart as a high school student? No, she just wanted to get to know me. Me, not my perfectly thought out resume, but my actual personality, and this was something I had not planned for.

From doing a night tour of campus, to sitting with the upperclassmen BNs on their dorm room beds and having a conversation, to eating pizza in the Bell Tower common room, to taking a unplanned, and wonderful, trip to the Reality Center with another finalist and freshman BN, everything was so authentic. Everyone that I met wanted to just have a conversation, about anything and everything, to get to know each other enjoy one another’s company. I left finalist weekend having enjoyed not the things that I had planned in my calendar, but the informal, spontaneous conversations and events that allowed me to actually understand what it means to be a BN Duke scholar and a Duke student—community.

So I came back home with warmth and fuzzies, wanting so much to be a part of the BN Duke family (yes, we call ourselves a family, in the least corny way possible). And when I got that call from Charlie on a beautiful April afternoon, I literally ran around my house about five times while on the phone with him in the attempt to completely exhaust myself so I could sound as calm as possible. I mostly just sounded like a panting dog. But when the time came to make the college decision, I reverted back to what was comfortable for me, planning. I researched every fact about the colleges I had narrowed down, every extracurricular, every major, every statistic. I made a spreadsheet document with a column for each school, and a row for each category. I went back and forth, trying to determine a fail-proof mathematical algorithm for choosing a school. I wanted no aspect of spontaneity or feeling to influence my decision making, I wanted facts.

There is no doubt that Duke provides every student with abounding, amazing opportunities to push, question, experience, and succeed. The faculty, research, arts, and study abroad are phenomenal. The students, and especially all of my wonderful classmates, are incredibly accomplished already, and are continuing to push themselves to be leaders in their respective fields. However, what set Duke, and particularly the BN program, apart for me was its authenticity. It was the fact that this program and school could not adequately be represented by facts, but that everyone was real in their passion for certain causes, real in loving what they studied, and real in wanting to invest in a friendship with one another. It was something that I could perhaps not manage and quantify, but it set Duke apart for me as the place that I undoubtedly wanted to be, where I would not just be pushed to be a leader and excel academically, but where I would be encouraged and supported to be authentic. To experiment to find out what authenticity was for me. To not be expected to have all the answers and all the plans coming in, but to be expected to learn, try things out, and fail a little, but learn and grow with my classmates.

So against every controlling, planning, scheduling, quantitative, type a urge in my body, I deleted the spreadsheet. I chose to come to Duke. I chose to be a part of an incredible community and support system, and I chose to be a bit more spontaneous and real, rather than calculated and planned. I chose to be a BN Duke scholar, and to try to work on incorporating a little more spontaneity in my life.

Side note: Just to clarify, this is still a work in progress. I still struggle when Brodie gym closes because there have been way too many snow days to be good for anyone and my workout routine is disrupted. Or when they don’t serve grilled chicken at Marketplace and I have to think of something else to eat. Or when I realize that I don’t actually want to major in Neuroscience, but I want to major in International Comparative Studies and Global Health and be Pre-Med with a chem minor (yikes). But I am learning to be flexible, and have the support and authentic encouragement to change my mind and try new things, without the expectation that I should “have it all together” as a freshman in college.

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Choosing to come to Duke and be a B.N. Duke Scholar had everything to do with choosing the corner where the people would support us the most zealously, where we could explode in pursuit of our passions, and where opportunities were not scarce. Stesha Doku Charlotte, NC

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