The end of the school year is characterized by the mayhem of Spring Fling, cramming for finals and packing up boxes, all while trying to fit in just a little time for tanning in the courtyards. It’s hectic, to say the least.
Amidst the mayhem that is the end of the semester, this coming weekend is Senior Day for a few Yale teams. As a junior on the softball team, I’ve already seen two classes of seniors on their way in my time here, and will say goodbye to one more on Saturday.
Senior Day is, like many things this time of year, both a celebration and an ending. It’s a chance to recognize the successes and dedication of four years, to reflect on experiences as student-athletes and to say goodbye to teammates and friends who have been there for every bump, step, fall and triumph along the way.
In the spirit of reflection that comes with the end of the year, Senior Day is a chance to really think about what being a collegiate student-athlete entails and why it’s valuable. And as I face the reality of saying goodbye to one more class of teammates and becoming a senior myself in two short weeks, I am increasingly convinced that the opportunity to play should be appreciated at every opportunity.
Playing a sport in college, or any high level, is hard work. The practices before sunrise, long weekend bus trips, juggling classes and practices, running sprints in the heat of summer — or worse, in the cold of winter — and missing out on social events are par for the course. And even if and when we complain about these things, the fact remains that day in and day out, for four years, we show up. Even when we don’t know why, or when we question if it’s worth it, we are still there to run the sprints, make the practices and catch the bus at 5:30 a.m.
Senior year is in part a celebration of the work, time, sacrifice and dedication that four years as a college athlete entails. For most seniors, the hard work started long before they stepped onto their college campus. Behind every athlete, there are years of practices, traveling to tournaments, playing catch off the pitch-back in the driveway, shooting hoops after dinner, taking lessons and pouring our hearts into our sport. There are coaches who have guided us, parents who have sacrificed more than we could ask to be there cheering every step of the way and teammates who have become our closest friends.
If anything, Senior Day provides the answer to the question that every athlete has asked themselves at least once before: Why am I doing this?
In large part, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for the people around us. Like many things, sports are an experience best when shared. For every dinner at Chili’s, every game played in freezing cold, every early morning wake-up call and every win and loss, your teammates are there with you to experience it, remember it and laugh about it later. They are family in the most corny, cliché sense possible: they’re utterly embarrassing, know way too much, see you at your lowest points, annoy you to no end and you can’t choose them. But you’d do anything for them and know they’d say the same.
The second part of the answer to why we do it is perhaps one that is most often forgotten, but is perhaps most important of all. Behind the 20-year-old men and women that we become as college athletes, there are little kids who loved to play catch with their dads in the backyard, or who took their soccer ball with them everywhere, or who couldn’t wait to throw the football around at recess. There is a part of all of us who dreamed to be where we are now, playing a game that we have loved for so long that we might have forgotten we loved it at all.
So for all the seniors who play their last games in the coming weeks, it’s not too late. Enjoy the feeling of your spikes digging into the dirt, or the feeling of celebrating after a goal with teammates. Thank your parents, who have gone above and beyond and been your biggest cheerleaders through every defeat and success. Enjoy pulling on your Yale jersey, because it’s something we have dreamed about doing and don’t appreciate enough. Play for the love of the game that has taken you so far and given you so much, one last time.