Welcome to Yale, freshmen. When you chose this place, you chose a University proud of its age. Whether you wanted it or not, you inherited 300 years’ worth of tradition. And now, as you gaze upon your very own Gothic castles for the first time, you can get the feeling that Yale has existed forever, an institution as unchanging and static as its carved stone.
The pride you’re feeling has its purposes. Our love of our University inspires us to achieve, as many before us have. Centuries of traditions, layered upon one another, have built the foundations of the Yale we know today. These traditions are as diverse as the institutions we join and the moments that bind us together.
But the pride we have in the past can also cloud our vision, and blind faith in tradition limits our potential. Now, it will be up to your class to determine which of these traditions are worth keeping — which ones unite this University across time, and which have lived beyond their usefulness.
The best traditions connect us with our University’s history, and allow us to forge our own identities within the context of their legacies. You will find your own place in your residential college, at the Yale-Harvard game and even at Toad’s on Wednesday nights. Right now, many of these institutions may seem strange, even incomprehensible. But like generations of students before you, you will undoubtedly grow to value the traditions that benefit our community and its students, and fight to keep them alive.
Other traditions are worth tossing aside, and it will be your job to identify them. The worst traditions divide us, but survive under the guise that they are valuable for their own sake. They highlight the worst about us, making us believe we are greater than the community we have entered. They make us believe that what has been done must always be done that way, and stifle the very same originality that adds life to our campus.
In every generation, Yalies have fought for the Yale they want to see, and we sincerely hope the class of 2017 will do the same.
This task may seem daunting, and in truth, it is. But Yale admitted you not only for your individual strengths, but also for the potential you had to give back. Our traditions become yours when you accept that you will be responsible for the way the next class will find them. It will be up to each of you to ensure that in four years, another class of freshmen enters a more diverse, compassionate and intellectually vibrant Yale than the one we see today.
So we ask that you approach Yale the same way you’ve learned to approach yourselves. Consider the things that have gotten you this far, and question whether each is worth keeping. Improve the institutions that work to make Yale great, and swiftly discard those that damage it.
In the coming weeks, we hope you will begin this search.
We are the Yale Daily News, and for 135 years, we have striven to ask these questions. On these pages and on campus, we hope you will join us in shaping Yale’s history.