Three years and seven months ago, the class of 2013 arrived at Yale University. In four short weeks, it will be time for us to depart, time to set out to wander the country and the world in search of new adventures, new friends, new challenges, new homes.
Even as we move boldly forward, it’s difficult not to look back and wonder whether we did everything the way we were supposed to, or try to figure out what we should take away from our experiences. We’ve gone through a whirlwind of rigorous seminars and raucous debauchery, classy dinners and mid-thesis junk food, rainy days of reading (sometimes literature, sometimes Facebook) and sunny courtyard picnics. Emotional breakdowns, fights among friends and rejections by employers were balanced by competitive triumphs, academic accomplishments and the warmth of young (if sometimes fleeting) love. All the while, broader sagas of pain and deprivation played out across the world, and the storms of life — figurative and literal alike — battered at our collective subconscious. What did it all mean, 2013?
We get a “Life after Yale” guidebook that teaches us how to save for retirement and pay our taxes and utilities and even cook some things that aren’t ramen noodles. But no such guidebook exists to tell us what the takeaway of our college experience is. This isn’t because there isn’t one common Yale experience that unites all of us — there decidedly is. Rather, it is because the Yale experience will only make sense with the passage of time and exposure to life outside of Yale. For most of us, this is the only place we’ve known as adults. We need points of comparison, a frame of reference.
Perhaps over the coming years we will meet people or become part of communities in the broader world where tolerance is not as prevalent as it is at our alma mater. Then it will really hit us how special it was to have lived in a place where characterizations or assumptions based on gender, sexuality and race took a backseat to individuality. Or, in the future, we may suffer under the rigid orthodoxy of lumbering, bureaucratic organizations and wonder why no one is ready or willing to entertain the radical and innovative devil’s advocacy, the seditious questioning that permeates the 12 colleges and percolates every new freshman class upon their arrival.
We’ll intuit that these sorts of things are worth fighting for elsewhere. Sometimes we won’t feel strongly enough about certain principles to champion them, but other times a veritable roar from the very spirit of this institution will come surging back, reminding us of the ideals we stood for and demanding we defend them to our dying days.
I’m not sure which life events will spark these personal revolutions, these returns to Yale. I don’t think I can very well predict which once-meaningful values or memories you or I will abandon with the passage of time, recognizing their ultimate insignificance, or which ones will remain with us forever. But I am convinced they will come, in one form or another, and our time in this company of scholars, this society of friends, this tradition, will be among the most powerful, inspiring and important of our entire lives. We’re not meant to have answers yet; we came here to start asking questions.
I’ve been privileged to be part of not one but two very special communities where free speech and the exchange of ideas and rational arguments held primacy. They helped me develop some of my own big questions. Thank you to the many wonderful members of the Yale Debate Association. And thank you to all my editors and readers at the News. It has been an honor.
Those of you who are staying at Yale: cherish every moment. Be good to one another, and be good to the world. And don’t get too caught up in trying to make sense of it now. It’s enough to just live it, one day at a time.
Michael Magdzik is a senior in Berkeley College. This is his last column for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .