This morning in philosophy lecture, my professor, despicably, went over the format for our final exam. This might not have been so atrocious — you might even suggest that I should have been appreciative — had it not come in conjunction with a few other ill-disguised attacks on my emotional well-being. Last weekend, one of my TAs sent out a schedule of the readings we will discuss in our two (two!) remaining Tuesday morning sections. Emails about summer storage options and choosing a sophomore advisor (I assume that this is what they’re about, based on the subject lines — I still refuse to read them) pile up in my inbox. Apparently the year is coming to a close, but I don’t remember granting it permission.
The semester’s end alarms me for several reasons. One, that the acceptable, even recommended aimlessness of being a freshman, the easy excuse for any clueless or irresponsible behavior, the sense that the entire world lies in wait before you, will be over. I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to have discovered this year (should I have found myself already, or is that better left for the post-grad existential crisis?) but I am fairly sure that I haven’t done it. I have failed the “ring by spring” exhortation popular at some Southern schools; I have even failed the twelve colleges dining hall challenge. Apparently it has been two full semesters — I have the looming finals and deadlines to prove it — but I can’t say I feel finished.
Worse than the end of freshman year, though, is the beginning of freshman summer — or, to put it more stressfully, the summer before sophomore year. For many, summer symbolizes relaxation. At Yale, summer is hardly even a respite from classes. Even those who don’t study during the vacation continue the year’s relentless productivity, interning at big name companies and often making impressive salaries. Yale summers seem better defined by dress shoes than flip-flops. Slackers and beach bums need not apply.
I live on a quiet street in suburban Connecticut, but over spring break this year my place of residency would have best been given as 55 Whitney Ave., Third Floor. If you haven’t been there (bless you), this is Yale’s Undergraduate Career Services office, a dog pound for the aimless and desperate. This change in address had a lot to do with my laughable attempt to be productive while on vacation: My spring break agenda (identical, funnily enough, to my failed winter break agenda) was to plan my summer. To this end, I spent hours in UCS, endlessly irritating the otherwise unoccupied career advisors with my utter hopelessness.
I did this because the question “What are you doing this summer?” has been haunting me for months. Everyone else seems to have their answers practically scripted by now, while I’m just hoping that my jokes about my lack of prospects are still more funny than they are pathetic.
Not only do I not have an internship settled yet, but any I consider will be neither prestigious nor paid. This fact in of itself bothers me: If I were the type of person who would be content sitting on the couch all summer, I doubt I also would have been the type of person who would go to Yale. But even more, I’m bothered by the idea that at Yale, a summer spent working for minimum wage is essentially a failure, while for nearly all of my high school friends, scoring a job at all is a great success. Of course I don’t want to be bored all summer, but I’d prefer to feel that the pressure to succeed only comes from me.
As I fruitlessly surf UCS Symplicity, sometimes I long for childhood, when summers were not yet seen as just another chance to get ahead. I miss the days when vacation meant sticky fingers and tacky family vacation photos, sunburns at the local pool and drive-through ice cream shops, Tuesday evening concerts on the town green. May through August has been commodified — it has become a time to network and impress. Summers, now, are opportunities, and as Yalies we never waste opportunities. I realize the summers of tan lines and ill-fitting day camp uniforms are over, but I’d happily go back if it meant spending my days running through sprinklers instead of jumping through hoops.