Ng: Learning to be forgotten

The Kristening

We think a lot about legacy here. Surrounded by statues and buildings with hyphenated names, we think about how we might change this place forever, do what no one before us has done. We start cultural groups and non-profit organizations and run for elected office, striving to find validation in word processed letters thumbtacked to departmental bulletin boards or engraved in gold on the walls of society tombs.

In so many ways, the culture of Yale encourages us to find ways to live forever. So we compete, in our quirky but cunning methods to see who can save the world bigger and more creatively than the person sitting next to us in seminar.

As I prepare to leave Yale, I think about what sort of mark I’ve left here — in Jonathan Edwards College, in Groove Dance Company, in the Yale Christian Fellowship, in the columns of the News. I think about the empty spaces those in the year before me left, and if anyone will remember them when I’m not around to mention their names or recall funny anecdotes. I think about being forgotten.

But I wonder if it’s such a bad thing.

The pursuit of self-memory can be both motivating and crippling. I’m sure scientific advancements would occur much less frequently if patents did not exist or there were no Nobel Prizes to be won. I’m also certain, however, that many opportunities to care for one another are not taken because they do not come with recognition.

I think about what it would be like to want to change the world even if we were not remembered for it, and what profound compassion it would incite. I hear the words of Patrick Fung, a doctor and missionary who went to Asia. He knew that he would not be individually recognized for his actions; he went because he knew his actions would add to a collective legacy more memorable and more important.

I know that Yalies care about being remembered. But, ironically, Yale is where I learned how to live to be forgotten.

As a sophomore, I sat at a table of prefrosh from my high school, their Yale waffles piled high with strawberries and whipped cream. “Is it actually difficult?” they asked.

I told them that despite what we had been told by our high school teachers and guidance counselors, that we would “never be in place with such concentrated intellect,” to say that Yale was challenging was an understatement.

Here, I lost my first election, experienced my first heartbreak and received my first zero on a problem set. I fell below the curve, both inside and outside the classroom. My time here stopped being about what I could do for myself. It couldn’t be, because I would surely fail at that.

But along with a mandate that propels us to see beyond ourselves, Yale gives us the ability and the technical skills to see plans into existence. We can travel abroad to see health and education programs in action and use difference-in-difference estimators to study their effects. But we also learn, perhaps especially this year, that our world is one of beauty and brokenness. And our education demands that we act on it.

Yale changed me. Amid four years of sections and meetings and rehearsals and concerts — four years of establishing a legacy — I gained a greater understanding of the sort of mark I ought to leave at Yale. It’s one that won’t bear my name or single great achievement. But hopefully it will live on long after I’m forgotten.

Kristen Ng is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.

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