On Feb. 17, each hapless member of the class of 2014 received what I’m assuming is the annual “look out y’all commencement is nigh” email. My response, swamped by midterms and other unthinkable Yale-type horrors, was to go into full-on Peter Pan mode. I won’t grow up, Yale! I won’t do it. I’m stealing all the pixie dust and I’m hiding it and I’m never leaving the Neverland that is Yale.
The email, of course, wasn’t actually a surprise. Commencement isn’t a dark nebulous cloud, looming high above the endless sky of senior year, always threatening to rain the real world down on us. Commencement is so much stealthier than that. It’s a mist that permeates everything. It’s in the job applications. It’s in the “so what are you doing next year?” inquiries. It’s in the way we make bucket lists, and ask each other about them without a trace of sarcasm. It’s in the way the casual-yet-hollow ‘let’s get a meal soon and catch up!’ suddenly rings with new earnestness. It’s the silent but ever-present knowledge that this is the final round. The last time.
When I came back to school last fall for my senior year, I thought that I would be consumed by an overwhelming sense of lasts. Everything would be a last. The last fall semester shopping period! The last Harvard-Yale! The last Bees & Cheer! The last round of holiday parties! The last January snow! The last time I would ever be overcharged at Durfee’s on a Tuesday! The last time I would ever traipse through the cold for a Yorkside milkshake on February 3 at exactly 8:43 p.m.!
I thought I would drown in all those lasts. But as it turns out, commencement makes you more painfully aware of the could-have-beens. Commencement reminds you that you’re running out of time. You’re special, here in Neverland. Here you can be anything, but the real world will tell you that it’s too late. That endless promise is so hard to let go of. Yale isn’t perfect, but in a way it’s a fairytale and its sparkle is undeniable, and how can you leave a place that reflects all that sparkle onto you? Every star — if you just sprinkle a little pixie dust — is within reach.
It’s so easy to get lost in all the could-have-beens. The friends you could have made, the things you could have done, the people you should have kissed, the astronaut-soccer star-comedian-fire swallower you might never get to be. Commencement is a weird funk, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Maybe it is the time to be totally gung-ho. Maybe it is the time to romp around and drink too much and sleep too little and write an op-ed and do everything I’ve ever wanted to do and tell everyone everything I’ve ever wanted to say and because it’s the last time and there are so many things I haven’t done and so many things I have to do!
But sometimes I wonder if that places too much of a premium on regret. I’d be lying if I said I had no regrets, and maybe I should be more gung-ho about them. Maybe I’m too cautious. In the midst of all the could-have-beens, though, we risk ignoring the things that have been. I’ve laughed and cried and loved and certainly drank too much and definitely slept too little, because I wouldn’t be a real Yalie if I didn’t complain about how sleep-deprived I am. I’ve tried on a thousand different faces looking for the one I liked the best, and it turned out, strangely enough, to be the one I always had.
Commencement is scary because it means letting go of Yale, where it seems like anything can happen. Our bright college years might be winding down, but the thing is, Yale doesn’t really end. I mean, we get JSTOR access for life and that nifty aya.yale.edu alumni email address. Or maybe some of us actually have our priorities in order and are moving to Yale Part II, also known as New York City. Then, reunions! Yale Club! And, in case we’re feeling neglected, a lifetime of calls asking for donations!
Maybe we each have a million regrets; maybe we each have none. There’s no cure, I suppose, for commencement, but maybe it’s time to take a look around. Look at the people we love, the people who love us. The fact that they’re there at all means we probably did Yale just a teeny tiny bit right, whether we have jobs or still haven’t a clue what we’re doing with our lives. Because that’s the kind of love — although commencement is still terrifying — that makes us believe enough to fly out of Neverland.
Anisha Suterwala s a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .