When you watch a duck glide across a pond, it looks as though it does so without exerting any effort. The surface of the water remains placid, while the creature seems occupied with everything except its own propulsion. However, the truth is masked by the water, for below the surface, the duck’s legs are paddling frantically. This observation was considered by psychologists at Stanford when they coined the “Duck Syndrome”, a term to describe students who seemingly float through every challenge without much visible effort. The kid who earns all A’s while simultaneously being captain of the golf team, volunteering at the hospital every Sunday, being involved in every possible club, and still going out with friends each weekend, all while seeming completely at ease. When psychologists talk about the Duck Syndrome, the discussion often centers around the negative effects this lifestyle can secretly foster. I won’t speculate as to the specifics of my friend’s mental health, though he does express that he’s doing great. Instead, I want to use this “syndrome” purely as a vehicle for relating my friend’s immense gifts, specifically the hard work that often goes unnoticed. Because, when looking at a person as outstandingly successful and seemingly unstrained as Luke Elias, it’s easy to miss how hard they’re kicking beneath the water.
As I alluded to earlier, Luke’s high school career was about as good of an illustration of the Duck Syndrome as they come. It would be easy enough to turn this into a rant about his old accomplishments (Class President, top scorer on our now-legendary intramural basketball team, etc.), each paired with examples of his unnoticed industriousness. More recently, however, I was struck by Luke’s procurement of an internship this summer. It’s the holy grail of freshmen year: most students wait until they’re a junior to get one, some sophomores, but to do so as a freshman is the quintessential overachievement. I’ve heard Luke talk about how he got the job, telling people that he had some connection through a cousin to a smaller company downtown, and that all he did was email the dude in charge asking for a job. This may be the truth, though it is a trivialization of it to say the least. Luke applied to a plethora of jobs. He didn’t get many interviews. So he applied to more. When the opportunity arose for the downtown gig, he didn’t get a response from his first email, so he sent another. He’s the one that suggested an interview. His job was not handed to him by a personal connection as it may come across at face value. It is something so clearly a perpetuation of the Duck Syndrome. If you talk to Luke (or many other people who have similar experiences as this), he’ll humbly downplay his internship, chalking it up to luck and family connections. He’ll come off looking as though the opportunity just appeared before him, and all he did was accept it. However, the truth of the matter is that success is generally more than just good fortune. It is the intersection of hard work with such opportunity. If a dozen jobs reject you and only one offers a position, unless you go around boasting of your failures (something that might actually make the world a better place?), people will only attribute the one success to you. As in the case with Luke, it can be easy to believe opportunities fall at some people’s feet. The reality, however, is that he has worked incredibly hard for every success, recognizing full well that people tend not to count your failures.
Now, as much as I wish this next example was about swimming so it could fit so seamlessly with the duck metaphor, it’s actually about running. If you know me, you’re surely familiar with my love of the sport lifestyle. What you might not know is that Luke is an excellent runner himself. Now, this isn’t exhibitive of the Duck Syndrome in the sense that he secretly gets up for 6:00 AM runs to train while no one is watching. Rather, his approach to the occasional run he goes on tells volumes about the way he operates. Simply put, Luke just does. If you want to run seven miles with him in under fifty minutes, he does it. If you want an easy three-mile jog, he’ll stick with you just as well. Running is an immensely mental activity. The way you perceive your pace and distance has a direct effect on your performance. Luke’s mentality is perfectly suited to this. He doesn’t overthink things. He simply rises to whatever challenge presents itself. Luke doesn’t think about what kind of shape he’s in or what he had for breakfast or even the distance and speed. He just goes.
I’ve watched him function like that metaphoric duck across every aspect of his life for years. If he’s going two miles or ten. Whether it’s a paper or a presentation due by midnight. When you need a laugh or a listen. If you’re going to a show or finding a snack. Throwing the party or taking a late night walk. Luke Elias is someone who will always meet the situation. This gift causes the people lucky enough to be in his life, and even himself sometimes, to forget what is constantly happening beneath the surface. But above all else, he is a friend who you want to be there. It doesn’t matter where “there” happens to be, you just know that his presence will improve upon it. A friend whom I cherish, and whose company I hope to keep for a very long time.