Category: Erin Dugan (page 1 of 4)

College doesn’t teach you: humility

Last week, I received an email asking me to submit what was deemed a “Bio-Sketch” for my convocation ceremony. “It should be roughly 50 to 100 words,” read the form email, “stating your full name, your major(s) and minor(s), and 2 to 4 additional sentences about yourself, including any special accomplishments, interests, awards, experiences or future plans that you would like to share about yourself.”

If I had to give a rough estimate, this is probably the tenth email I have received this year that asked me to describe myself in terms of individual promotion.

College has taught me many things. Humility is not one of them.

When you select a college, you’re told that you have chosen to attend the greatest school on earth, that you are surrounded by the greatest peers you could ever imagine, that these are the greatest four years of your life and that what lies ahead of you can only be greatness, defined by an array of statistics detailing rankings and happiness surveys and employment histories. You live in a bubble founded on the principle of narcissism. And when you live in such a bubble, it’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming compulsion that you, as a member of a community that engages in all manner of self-elevation, are also the best.

Over the course of my college career, I’ve seen this compulsion in action. I’ve felt it and I’ve acted on it. I’ve rarely been told to keep my pride in check or to watch my ego, primarily because everyone else was doing the same thing. At some point between freshman move-in day and junior pin ceremony, my classmates and I came to the consensus that accomplishments were only real if you bragged about them. We started to believe that it was not just our job to be successful, it was also our duty to ensure that the rest of the world knew exactly how successful we really were. We bought into the bubble of narcissism. Our egos overpowered our roots and we rejected the importance of humility in lieu of acknowledging our personal greatness because for some reason, we believed that we had made things happen on our own.

Here’s the other truth about college: you don’t do anything on your own. The greatest accomplishments that you list off in whatever your convocation bio may be were not the work of you, as an isolated individual. They are the result of a combination of forces and people acting in your favor. You are here, in whatever your state of success may be, because someone supported you along the way, whether that be your family, your mentors, your academic advisors, or the lady that filled your coffee cup at Dunkin Donuts every day of freshman year.

Working hard is admirable. Having multiple majors and minors, accomplishments, interests, awards, and experiences, 100 words of greatness to be spoken about in front of other people and their parents is impressive. But what’s far more beautiful is the ability to be grateful for whatever it is that brought you to the point of writing a paragraph for your college convocation ceremony. Crediting only yourself for your greatest successes and accomplishments is almost always a misrepresentation of personal history.

~Erin Dugan

Things College Doesn’t Teach You: The First Installment

The first day of freshman year, I learned that wearing an official University of Delaware lanyard around your neck is a serious social faux pas.

I remember leaving my dorm room in a burst of false confidence, empowered by the fact that I was no longer required to wear a 100% polyester school uniform, inspired by the singing omelet-maker in the Russell dining hall, excited for the prospect of basking in professorial intelligence with one hundred other co-eds.

As I crossed Academy Street at the peak of morning pedestrian traffic, someone behind me muttered “Freshman are so painful sometimes, walking around with their lanyards hanging out. Like, just stop.”

I discreetly ripped the lanyard off of my neck and shoved it into my pocket.

“How to avoid blatantly advertising your first year status” was the first big lesson I learned in college. And it was followed by a series of equally important lessons.

How to make a dining hall salad edible.
How to subtweet.
How to write a 20 page research paper on the media’s sexist depictions of Hillary Clinton and its influence on her overall public narrative.
How to become addicted to Dunkin Donuts pumpkin swirl coffee.
How to use a sledge hammer.
How to sleep in a room without air conditioning.
How to prevent New Jersey stereotypes from influencing your friendships.
How to wear Sperry’s.
How to heal blisters caused by Sperry’s.
How to pretend you know what you are doing when you order your first cheesesteak.
How to pull an all-nighter.
How to remain calm during class registration.
How to make a second home that’s 2,109 miles from your first.

College has taught me a lot. The list could go on. But as I near the end of my undergraduate career, I’ve also come to the conclusion that there are things that I haven’t learned in college, things that I could never have learned in college, simply because I was too caught up in learning the stuff that felt required, the stuff that made all of this possible.

It’s funny how when you take a minute to look up from your day planner and close the mental file cabinet of color coded stressors, you realize that you might have missed some big lessons in the past four years.

Freshman year Erin. Yours truly has come a long way.

Freshman year Erin. Yours truly has come a long way.


So for the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about the things that I didn’t learn in college. The “how-to’s” of this messy thing that can only be described as “real life”. The essential wisdom I wish I had recognized earlier. The stuff that I missed along the way.

I’ve learned a lot in the past seven semesters. But the biggest lesson that I have learned is that school can’t teach you everything. Part of this whole “learning” thing is about you.

~Erin Dugan

The Law of Averages

The first time I remember receiving a genuine compliment, I was five years old. My neighbor told me I was really good at braiding hair (which I had been practicing for weeks on the heads of unsuspecting Barbie dolls). My neighbor was in no way related to me or otherwise obligated to bolster my kindergarten self-esteem. I knew that she meant what she said.

That’s the first time I remember thinking that I was really good at something. Something tangible. Something unique. Something that warranted honest compliments. I was a better-than-average braider of hair.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I’m slightly above average in a number of ways. I’m a pretty good stick-shift driver. I’m a gifted list-maker. I’m an expert orange peeler. But age has also brought with it a sense of inadequacy. There are days when I feel overwhelmingly average, when I wonder why I haven’t founded a non-profit yet or invested in the stock market. Days when I conclude that my life has no true direction. Days when I can sense my own anonymity, when I can feel my smallness, when I realize that despite my best efforts I am no more important than a speck of dust in this grand universe.

The truth of the matter is that I am exceptionally average. It’s not a statement of self-deprecation. It’s just a fact. There are seven billion people who live on this planet. To think that I am somehow above average would be to deny statistics altogether, to deny the greatness of thousands of millions of others that I will likely never meet.

I’m average. And there’s a pretty good chance you are too. You are also a speck of dust in this grand universe. That’s life. Part of being human is exercising imperfection, understanding that you can never be good at the summation of all talents, abilities, or skills. You are destined to be good at some things and bad at others. You will average out.

“Average”, however, is not to be confused with “inadequate”. Being average doesn’t make you a less gifted individual or a less productive member of society. It makes you flawed and it makes you interesting, but most importantly, it makes you human. You are one of seven billion other seemingly average souls, all of whom have strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t founded my own non-profit or invested in the stock market and my direction is lacking. But I can drive stick and make lists and peel oranges. I can braid hair. I can learn to accept the fact that there will be someone who is smarter than me or more charming than me or funnier than me. Because at the end of the day, they’re probably average too. And that’s life.

~Erin Dugan

The young, the wild, and the apathetic

When I was a freshman in college, I did something remarkable.

I voted.

It was 2012, a ground breaking year in American politics. It was the year of the lingering Republican primary, the year of billion dollar fundraising, the year of Clint Eastwood talking to a chair, the year of Twitter, the year of not-quite-recovered economy and the 47%. I was 18. It was my year.

Unfortunately, not all of my peers mimicked this remarkable action. In fact, only about half of those ages 18-29 voted in the 2012 election. It was one of the best years for youth voter turnout in recent history. And only half of us sent in a ballot or set aside time in our day to stop by a polling station.

That’s pathetic. And before you tell me about all of the reasons that you didn’t vote on election day, about how you didn’t know where to register, about how you had an exam the next day, about how your vote doesn’t really matter because of the electoral college, let me tell you something:

People in other countries would give up everything to enjoy the privilege that you take for granted.

And before you tell me that I’m being dramatic, that one vote doesn’t really make a difference, that people in other countries would also give up everything to enjoy freedom of speech or religion or the press or even basic modern sanitation, let me tell you something else:

You’re right. One vote by itself doesn’t make a difference, and people in other countries do admire the lives of ordinary Americans. But many votes do make a difference. And part of the reason that we are blessed with clean water and air, with diversity and higher education, with research and technology, with flushing toilets and Reddit, is because of our strong, stable, representative government.

This representative government was not made on its own. It was not intended to function independently. It needs all of the votes that it can get, but in particular, it needs the votes of those of us with new ideas, those of us who are going to inherit this country and this earth. We must take it upon ourselves to participate. We must take it upon ourselves to register online, to obtain an absentee ballot, to make a trip to the polls. We must take it upon ourselves to demand representation, to elect officials that share our concerns about student debt, women’s health, gay marriage, the economy, and national security.

So for those of you who didn’t vote in 2012, I urge you to visit the polls on Tuesday. Because when it comes down to it, voting is a responsibility. Voting is a great way for our generation to ensure that our voice is heard. And finally, voting is remarkable. And shouldn’t we all strive to do something remarkable every 2 years or so?

Enhancing Your Fall Caloric Intake

I have a serious confession to make.

I am one of those extremely annoying, latte-sipping, oversized-sweater-wearing, noncreative geniuses who absolutely loves fall.

I like leaves. I like temperate weather. I like scarves. I like pretending that leggings are pants. I like being able to wear layers in an attempt to hide my pale and significantly less toned school year bod.

But most of all, during the fall season, I really, really, really, like to bake.

If you have never spent any time baking, you have no idea how rewarding it is. You don’t know how thrilling it is to crack an egg without getting any shells in the batter, how satisfying it is to secretly lick a spoon or bowl or pan, how amazing it is when some weirdly colored, seemingly random combination of ingredients comes out of the oven and immediately induces saliva production among observers.

Baking is amazing. And even though more Americans would prefer to watch other people bake, I am challenging you to combat that stereotype and bake something basic this fall. Because who doesn’t love a healthy combination of butter and sugar! Unless you are a vegan or a diabetic, what you really ought to be doing is enjoying the fatty-carbs this season has to offer. So this is me giving you a recipe (don’t worry, I made it an easy one) that is so hashtag fall and delicious, you won’t be able to resist the urge to bake. You’re welcome world.

Pumpkin Swirl Brownies (adapted from Betty Crocker) 

For the Brownies:
1 box brownie mix
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
1 egg

For the swirl:
1 package cream cheese, softened
½ cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:
-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease the bottom of a 9-inch square pan. In a small bowl, beat all of the swirl ingredients together with an electric mixer (or a spoon if you’re super strong) until smooth. Set aside.

-Make brownie batter as directed on the box. Spread ¾ of the batter in your greased square pan. Then spoon the “swirl” mixture on top of the batter. Make sure it is dispersed evenly. Add the remaining brownie batter (again, disperse the batter evenly). At this point you should have a greased, square pan with an even layer of brownie batter, an even layer of “swirl” mixture, and a thin, even layer of brownie batter. Make random “cuts” in the batter to give your brownies a marbled look.

-Bake for 40-45 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick that emerges from the pan clean. Cool completely and store covered in the fridge if you don’t eat the entire pan in one night.

Erin's favorite Pumpkin Swirl Brownies, courtesy of Betty Crocker!

Erin’s favorite Pumpkin Swirl Brownies, courtesy of Betty Crocker!

~Erin Dugan

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