Hirst: College is about experiences

Camp Yale was the first time I was told the greatness of a Yale education does not come from her institutions, her hollowed halls, her ivy towers or the mustache of then-Dean Salovey, but rather from her student body and the relationships we form. I do not think I fully understood what that meant until recently.

After arriving on campus, I threw myself into extracurricular activities, my Directed Studies reading and my effort to balance my homesickness with a desire to create a new home in the Vanderbilt entryway. It was a busy time. Thucydides is a slow read — even more so once words lose their meaning — and lectures often put me to sleep. The kid sitting on the right side of the room, head up, jaw relaxed — yeah, sorry about that. It wasn’t you, it was me.

Regardless, I had an easier time accumulating friends than Agamemnon had catching a wind to Troy. Sure enough, I came to know people I thought I valued. Sitting through lectures, writing papers late at night, debating our different understandings of shared first principles, eating late at night at Yorkside — these were the ways I formed friendships.

I used to believe this meant the experiences we share with others are what is important. I now think the important thing is how we make others feel. I did not understand this at the time.

The college experience, as I once perceived it, was a series of episodes I had an opportunity to observe. Not fully immersed, somewhat aloof, I was not a full participant. Other people happened to be in attendance at these times. But the individuals themselves were subsumed by the experience — the bonds of friendship were second to the event. I was not alone in this outlook.

One might think viewing Yale as a series of “episodes” is consistent with what we were told Yale would be like. The best part of Yale is the people, and this is an approach to interacting with them. The emphasis is placed not on the classroom, or the textbooks, or the architecture, but on the students — this was how we were told to experience Yale.

No, no it wasn’t. This understanding of the college experience, the one I learned, described and have now seen fit to argue against, values the experience over the feelings of others, places the personal above the group and puts the emphasis on the future at the expense of the moment. It is selfish. It is hedonistic. It is mean. It hurts people’s feelings.

People are right to consider the college experience in terms of the people we meet, but this approach to the university experience has been fundamentally misunderstood.

Let us try to divorce ourselves from everything but our relationships with others. Let us consider everything other than the person as background noise or static, a hindrance and not a means towards a lasting embrace.

Understand that this separation of people from everything else is not something even those who best understand the importance of friendship fully understand (though they certainly understand it far better than I do).

Venerable people on this campus spend their time attached to institutions. These institutions, some with a history going back to Yale’s founding, others to 1890, others to 1953, others more recent, are important and worth involving ourselves in.

But it should not be the basis of our friendships and we should consider our relationships with institutions after we build relationships with individuals. We cannot love nor be loved by institutions. And at the end of these four years, with our diplomas in hand, what will have our time here have been worth if we have not learned to love?

Adam Lior Hirst is a junior in Branford College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Great article, Adam. Too few people at Yale consider the importance of their relationships. Good to see you're happy.

  • BR 09

    Very nice column.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your simple yet profound reminder that we have all been put on this planet to love one another. How well we accomplish this determines to a large extent the quality of our lives.
    You have discovered something invaluable.

  • Anonymous

    I wish more people realized this. So many people here are so self-absorbed, so focused only on their own experiences and responsibilities that if you let your guard down, you can feel very lost, very unknown. Maybe more people will realize it after reading your column.

  • Anonymous

    Who makes up these headlines? Is that you, Pete Martin? The article is about how relationships are more important than experiences. Be more careful.