Gardens Connections

student Charles Shaffer sits on a boulder in the Fisher Amphitheater

Charles Shaffer
Class of 2023
Student representative
Duke Gardens Board of Advisors

When I first came to Duke, I felt nervous, overwhelmed and, frankly, out of my league—a feeling I’m sure many first-year students share. I went from classes of 20 students in high school to lectures of up to 350 students, and I was now living on my own.

With such a large life transition, Duke Gardens served as a means of escape, enabling me to relax and put life back into perspective. This was thanks largely to the Fisher Amphitheater and the Hanes Iris Garden, both adjacent to West Campus. After my acceptance, when I toured Duke with my parents, we agreed that these two beautiful spaces would be ideal spots to do homework, read a book, listen to music, or come with friends if I were ever feeling overwhelmed.

Because of this shared discovery with my parents, both the amphitheater and the iris garden served as reminders of home. I would sit in the grass with a book and it immediately felt like I was closer to my family. Throughout my freshman year, I visited both of these spots at least biweekly, and it helped make me feel at home when I felt out of place or stressed.

My time in Duke Gardens has clarified for me how important it is for everyone to have a meaningful connection with nature and the world around us. Now more than ever, we need to reconnect and have tactile experiences with more than screens and walls, for the sake of our mental health. I look forward to sharing this valuable campus resource with my fellow students.