This column was published as part of the special Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.
The day before my last Yale College final, I fell in love.
A few weeks prior to that, I had been asked to write this commencement column. I planned on writing a piece that hit on the standard graduation tropes of reflection and advice on how to navigate this vast, unknown future. And while I will discuss these topics, I want to present them in the context of love and Yale.
I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with her. While we had been friends since the start of freshman year, circumstances always drove us apart. Our lives diverged. Over two years passed with little contact.
Somehow, a chance encounter and a long dinner the day before my 9 a.m. final changed our paths. I’m not sure what we will be, or if we will be able to navigate a relationship across time zones. But while reflecting on the electric ten days we had together, I’m starting to see the power a Yale education can really have on the emotional fabric of our lives.
Our Yale education can help us love and empathize deeply with those around us. My short time with her was made more beautiful through the lens of my four years here. In our intimate discussions about what the “good” life is (which I began reading about in my freshman year philosophy class); in the chord progressions we played while singing songs on the piano (which I learned from my sophomore year music theory class); in the parallels we recognized between our stories and those written about in novels (which I read in my junior year literature class); and in the mutual understanding that I am incomprehensibly lucky to be alive with her (which was contextualized by astrophysics lectures I listened to in my senior year).
At the core of this love and empathy, our liberal arts education teaches us that we are not the absolute center of the universe. Every human life is beautiful and should be valued as an end in itself. But with the job ladders, social media competition and branding that comes with being a Yale graduate, obscuring this fact is easy. While our Yale education bestows upon us tools and reasons for empathy and love, we must consciously work on making sure that, as graduates, we value all people as human beings, just like us.
Understanding human struggles and desires doesn’t mean much unless we apply that knowledge. Our status makes it easy to see those around us as means to some selfish end. And while making connections for career growth is well and fine, our approach to people should be one that treats them as an end, with all the human complexities we learn about in poetry, political science, literature and biology.
Often, the way in which we interact with dining staff and New Havenites seems to run counter to the truisms of fairness and empathy that we talk about in seminars. Although our classes show us the power of humanity, the culture surrounding that education can perpetuate the idea that we are elite, that we are somehow better than others. As we leave, let’s focus on the power of the education we’ve received, not our status as graduates from an elite university.
By embracing the love our education teaches, we open ourselves up to beautiful, new opportunities. The ten days I spent falling in love were the best of my entire life. I opened up in ways I never had before, sharing a connection I’ve never experienced.
The miracle is that our love never would have happened had I only concerned myself with seeing her as part my fixed life narrative — fitting her into a predetermined life story, instead of letting her co-author her own part of it.
If you look at the circumstances, she and I shouldn’t be together. We connected after classes ended and will live thousands of miles apart after graduation. And while the future is uncertain, the time we had together was real and valuable in and of itself.
As our class parts after graduation, let’s not leave behind the people we’ve loved. We should value them as ends, and allow them to help form our life trajectories, not just fit into them. We must use our education to see that a life driven solely by preconceived goals is not one to live at all. Our lives will not be static.
Let’s acknowledge those we pass on our way to work and see the infinite value that we all carry as humans. Look at people the way you would if you were in love with them. Beautiful things can happen.
John Gonzalez is a senior in Ezra Stiles College.