It finally feels, amidst all of the finals craziness and late-blooming good weather, like the year is coming to a close. And that means that I’m almost a senior. Cue the nostalgia, the existential anxiety and the end-of-year musings.
The way in which the Yale community views the role of its seniors has often confused me in the past few years. It almost seems like your first three years at Yale are part of one experience, one in which you join clubs, groups and publications, one in which you devote energy to climbing the ranks and holding leadership positions in those clubs and one in which a great deal of your social life comes out of those friends you make through those activities.
Simultaneously, your first three years are also an academic journey. In those years, people generally do a bit of exploration and soul-searching, finding (hopefully) a major they are passionate about. But for the most part, freshman through junior year is spent in a rather constant state of overwork. Students seem to bond over commiseration; many of my friends over the past few years have been what I like to call “Bass friends” — friendships that have been solidified exclusively through those long, tragic nights in the basement of the library.
But going into senior year, there is something of a seismic shift, not only in academic life but also in seniors’ extracurricular (and, as a result, social) focus. Senior year at Yale is a huge exercise in treating oneself; to a certain extent, it seems like an opportunity to take a year of self-analysis and reflection. For that reason, we cut ties with some of the things we did as underclassmen. Many seniors spend a good portion of the year applying to jobs or graduate schools, or at the very least introspectively thinking about what the next chapter of their lives will look like. Almost all seniors will also spend a huge portion of their senior years researching and writing their theses, the culmination of their academic work at Yale, which is, from all I’ve heard, equal parts daunting and exhilarating.
But both of these are fairly solitary endeavors. As far as the social experience goes, a good portion of the senior class joins societies. The entire point of joining a society is to meet a group of people with whom you might never have interacted. Societies’ very mission is to provide something altogether unlike what seniors would have found in their underclassman experience. And from all I’ve heard, for those seniors who choose to fully embrace the potential of that new experience, it can be one of the most rewarding parts of Yale.
I’m looking forward to my senior year. But a small part of me hopes that I’m also able to hold back from fully embracing the “other”-ness of senior year — because the fact of the matter is that I have loved the things I did during these past few years. It seems almost unfathomable to me that I will suddenly cease all involvement in my underclassman a cappella group, an experience so formative and fundamentally important to my Yale experience.
I know that my time in New Blue has come to an end; I know that the year for me to branch out and meet new people and face new, transitioning-out-of-college challenges has come. And I embrace that. But I also hope, and I hope that my other fellow almost-seniors do, too, that I will remember to stay firmly grounded in all of the things that have been important to me in the past three years. I hope that the friends that I’m planning to make through my society will be life-changing — but the friends I made in a cappella, Berkeley or suffering through classes together are just as (if not even more) formative.
The things that mattered to us freshman and sophomore and junior year are just as important as the new experiences awaiting us. From the perspective of an underclassman, too often it felt like my senior friends got wrapped up in the novelty of this year. They discarded their underclassman versions in the excitement of new opportunities.
I don’t want to be that person. Even as I’m excited for new adventures, for a year of self-discovery and maybe a bit of relaxation, I hope I always remain aware of the experiences I’ve had in the past few years that made me who I am. It’s my goal to stay firmly grounded in the worlds I inhabited as an underclassman, even as the time comes to think of moving on.
Victoria Hall-Palerm is a junior in Berkeley College. Her columns run on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.