Lu: At Yale, expect to surprise yourself

Lu et Veritas

I had a great opinion article all lined up for Bulldog Days, I swear. It was about my experience as a prefrosh, clutching a big yellow legal notepad, jotting down what would end up being 22 pages of notes — pros and cons, between Harvard and Yale. I wrote about the schools and how hard the decision was, how I hated being so indecisive and analytical, how I wished I knew what I wanted from college.

But what’s more important is how I’ve changed since Bulldog Days.

When I was a prefrosh, I knew I was majoring in chemistry. Then as a freshman I took CHEM 118, slept through the first three lectures, stared blankly at the first problem set, cringed at the thought of walking up Science Hill before 11 a.m. every morning, and dropped the class. I found myself in “Introduction to Economics” and “Introduction to Psychology” and never looked back.

When I was a prefrosh, I knew who my best friends would be. During Bulldog Days, I hung out with three kids from the West Coast: two from SoCal, one from Washington. We connected over similar family backgrounds, Safe Rides, senior prom; sat next to each other during a tingling choral performance in Battell; walked the streets of New Haven after nightfall. Then I came to college. I spent hours in Vanderbilt, played ball with a perpetually optimistic Asian guy, chatted with a Jewish suitemate who appreciated my sense of humor. Now, I run into my former prefrosh friends on the street; sometimes we’ll say a little more than “Hi.”

When I was a prefrosh, I knew I wasn’t the stereotypical Asian-American. I wasn’t a math and science nerd; I was sociable, outgoing and occasionally brash. In college, I picked activities to further differentiate myself. Then I realized all the Asian-Americans here — and everyone in general — thought the same way. We got into Yale not because of higher-than-average SAT scores, but because of our unique experiences. I looked at myself: active member of AASA, pickup basketball player at Payne Whitney on Fridays, Korean drama sap and attendee of the JT Tran Master’s Tea — and realized I how much I loved being stereotypically Asian.

When I was a prefrosh, I tried to convince myself that prestige didn’t matter. But the summer after high school, I visited my grandparents in China. They asked my mom, “Why is he going to Yale? It’s No. 6 in the world. Harvard is No. 1.” And then my mom said, “It’s not too late, you know.” When I arrived on campus, the background of my experiences were painted with latent, sticky aspirations about visible accomplishments: a double major, YCC president, Skull and Bones, YLS, 2+2, Goldman — and led to an unsavory single-minded focus sophomore and junior years. It wasn’t until I was a senior that I learned how to stop striving for the adulation — or the slightly bitter envy — of people I would never know.

When I was a prefrosh, I chose to come to Yale because of its undergraduate focus, strong intramural sports scene, Master’s Teas, two-week Spring Break, Gothic architecture, school spirit, school colors (calming blue), isolation from a big city, attractiveness of its students (scientifically proven) and because the students seemed happier. After four years, I’d still choose Yale over Harvard — but because of its creative writing program, its summer opportunities, the Old Campus experience, Master Chun, FOOT, wiffle ball, magnolia flowers in the spring, the AACC and my senior year entryway.

If you’re a prefrosh, trying to determine the next four years of your life, remember that college is a random walk: We might think we’re in control, but we’re never completely sure where we’re going. The unexpected occurs daily, squeezed between bursting highs, soggy lows and vanilla middles. The only way to make our wandering purposeful is to figure out what we care about, and then stick to those guns.

Of course, the day-to-day is too inevitable and too urgent to be spending time thinking about diffuse, elevated virtues. Here’s an easier heuristic, then, oft-repeated by my mom: “Don’t stress. Everything always works out.” After four years at Yale, things always do.

peter lu is a senior in Berkeley College.

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