Dropping courses, setting out on new ones

At 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 7, 2008, the final day before spring break, I walked out of Connecticut Hall and things were looking up. As I took a nostalgic look around Old Campus, there was a spring in my step; I waved to some familiar Stiles frosh heading towards Phelps Gate with suitcases in hand. Though I still hadn’t secured employment for the summer, a momentary release had finally arrived. Or so I thought.

I then made the mistake of taking a gander at the rolled-up philosophy term paper tucked underneath my arm.

My pace slowed as the pages turned. I didn’t think much of the pencil-filled margins. “Gee, what nice handwriting my TF has” soon became “My, what a thorough TF I have” and eventually concluded with “I strongly dislike your comments, TF. Why you gotta be so mean?”

I paused in front of Durfee to consider how my day had turned upside down in the course of four minutes.

The myriad of standard questions emerged in rapid succession: How did this happen? How could I have prevented this injustice? Wait, is this even my paper?

And finally: To drop or not to drop?

The drop deadline was less than two and a half hours away. Images of the pink drop slip I acquired earlier in the semester and pinned to the wall of my room flashed before my eyes.

On the way back to Swing Space, I did what most people do in semi-desperate situations: I called my mom.

I explained the details of the situation: the reality that I’d already dropped a class earlier in the semester, the impact of the paper’s low mark on my overall grade, my concerns about comfortably finishing a major and the fact that I couldn’t even e-mail my TF to talk it over because she had been in the emergency room for chemical conjunctivitis and, at the time, couldn’t even see.

My mother paused to take it all in.

“Can you call her? She doesn’t have to use her eyes.”

I thanked her for such sound guidance, hung up and decided to pay a visit to my residential college dean.

My regular dean was out of the office, so a substitute was sitting in for the day. After taking some time to acquaint himself with my file, he invited me into the office. I sat down and explained the situation as calmly and clearly as I could. After discussing some of my preliminary concerns regarding the “drop or not” debacle, he asked to see the paper I had been waving about as if it were a scepter, a prop in my frustrated ramblings.

Despite the depth of our lengthy conversation, no conclusions were drawn.

The dean took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand.

“Want to flip a coin?”

I won’t leave you hanging. I did not flip the coin. But I did drop the class. In retrospect, I should have flipped the coin for the heck of it, made my own decision and, if it corresponded to the result of the flip, attributed it to that. It worked when I was choosing high schools, and it would have made a great story.

In the rationalization-soaked aftermath, I returned to some of the original questions: Would the situation have changed if I just had a different TF? Was my entire experience of the class hinged on something as trivial as section locations and times?

Most of our Yale experience is dependent on chance. We forget this. Heck, the college admissions process itself is largely a crapshoot.

Each of us is randomly assigned to a residential college. Some of the best classes are chanced upon while randomly exploring unfamiliar sections of the Blue Book. Lotteries often determine spots in seminars. Who knows who you’ll meet in a hallway while taking a study break doing handstands? You could write about it, submit to the Yale Daily News and become a staff columnist all in the course of 24 hours.

Last semester, I accidentally walked into a literature class on the second floor of WLH. It ended up being one of my favorite classes to date and is part the reason why I’m considering the English major.

So what if I’ve dropped a couple classes and now have fewer credits than I originally planned? I might have to take a summer class or two and next semester might be a crunch. But I’ll make it work.

It’s impossible to predict everything that will happen over the course of a semester. Especially at Yale. Things happen. We switch majors. We ace exams; sometimes we fail them. We join clubs and organizations. And, despite what we think, we never have all the time that we need. Many times, there’s nothing we can do to influence the outcome. In these cases, we just gotta roll with the punches, overcome and drink in the delicious, undeniable uncertainty of it all.

Kristen Ng is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.

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