Small changes don’t affect Yale’s intensity

There’s a certain cheesiness inherent in a last YDN column. I don’t really see a way of avoiding it, so I’ve decided to embrace it with open arms. Consider yourselves appropriately warned, and let the cheese fly.

There are, of course, some ways in which Yale has changed in the four years I’ve been here. Back in 2003, some campus conservatives were actually willing to defend the invasion of Iraq, Dean was hot, and Obama was unknown. “The facebook” used to be a Yale College publication, not Mark Zuckerberg’s billion-dollar baby. Yalies carried around more Dells and fewer Macbooks. They checked their e-mail in the middle of lectures less frequently because the wireless was worse. Certain campus landmarks — the newly renovated Pierson, Davenport and Trumbull facilities, Dean Salovey’s mustache, AKS — had not yet become permanent fixtures in our minds.

Yes, a few things have changed. But most things haven’t. Yale is today, as it was four years ago and as I hope it always will be, above all a place of breathtaking passion and extraordinary ambition. The students who inhabit our school practically exude enthusiasm for whatever they choose to obsess about — classes, politics, team sports, music, art, journalism or even elaborate pranks. Whatever obstacles Yale occasionally throws in our paths — be it a bad professor, an incompetent administrator, a nonsensical regulation or an onerous application — Yalies have a tendency of overcoming through sheer inventiveness, exuberance or just hard work.

I can still remember the insanity of my first freshman bazaar, at which I was besieged on all sides and very nearly torn to pieces by a bewildering swarm of excited upperclassmen, each eagerly trying to sell me on a particular corner of Yale. Four years later, this endures as the dominant image I maintain in my mind of this school. Of course, the sophomores and juniors who once seemed to bestride the campus as figures impossibly larger than life, role models of success in whose footsteps none of us mere freshmen could possibly follow, have gone. They have been replaced by a new generation of campus leaders whom I still think of as the timid freshmen I only so recently knew, even as they prepare to shock and awe a new generation of wide-eyed freshmen this coming fall. But though the faces change, the energy and excitement remains exactly as I remember it. Remarkably, it has not faded even after four years.

No one loves Yale all the time. There have been times I have truly despised it. Yale is, above all else, an intense place. That isn’t to say we don’t have fun, but it is to say we never quite know how to relax — even as we mill around in our sunny courtyards tossing Frisbees back and forth, we seem to do so with a frenetic energy, never quite able to set aside the larger dreams so many of us harbor. Sometimes this intensity seems to close in around us, an oppressive torrent difficult to withstand. But most Yalies ultimately use it to propel themselves to new heights.

Kingman Brewster, who assumed the presidency of Yale in a bygone era, once declared that “to a remarkable extent this place has detected and rejected the very few who have worn the colors of high purpose falsely.” I tend to think, by and large, that remains true today. Yale’s student body may collectively be an intense, ambitious, self-promoting, perhaps even slightly conniving bunch. It is also a group of people who tend to believe to their core in the “high purposes” they espouse. So often our actions fail to measure up to that lofty ideal — I swear I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve let myself or my friends down, or seen other Yalies disappoint me by failing to measure up themselves. But usually we return to our principles and move forward, determined to do better next time.

I once wrote on this page, exactly halfway through my Yale career, that I believe Yale is above all a place for idealism. I still believe that, perhaps even more so. I also wrote that I wasn’t sure to what extent that idealism could be sustained beyond these ivy-covered walls. I’m still not sure. Some of the challenges our generation faces surely at least equal the grimmest challenges any other generation has faced, in any time, at any place. Has Yale, for all the delusions of grandeur it has inspired in us for now, truly prepared my class to meet those challenges? I really don’t know, but I’d like to find out.

Either way, it sure has been fun writing this column — for me, at least, if not for the succession of News opinion editors who have regularly waited past 10 p.m. for my e-mails to come in. Thanks for reading.

Roger Low is a senior in Branford College. This is his last regular column.

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