This column was published as part of the special Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.
I’ve always loved packing.
The first time in my life that I truly had to pack — to arrange the contents of my life for transportation elsewhere — was the day before coming to Yale four years ago. In between a goodbye lunch at the Space Needle with my best friends and a final casting off at the docks by my house, I filled my suitcases with just about everything.
Band tees from my favorite concerts. Books, DVDs, my Xbox, Super Smash Bros. Every single flappy-eared hat and ugly sweater I owned. What I chose to pack represented the parts of myself that I wanted to bring with me to Yale: namely, everything.
But at 3 a.m., as my friend Kim helped me frantically stuff sock after sock into an overweight suitcase, I came to the awful realization that I had absolutely zero clue what I was doing.
I wanted to, metaphorically, bring my life at home to the ivy walls of Yale. I failed to realize that doing so didn’t require bringing, literally, my entire material life along with me. And so, like many of us, I arrived on Old Campus with far too much in my suitcase.
In the intervening years, due to the impermanence that naturally characterizes our Bright College Years, we’ve gradually learned how to pack. We’ve learned to pack for the Reach Out mission to China and that summer internship in Louisville, for our fall break hiking excursion and even that short weekend trip to see our best friend in Boston. And at the end of every year, of course, we’ve all gotten to play “How much extra stuff can you hide in your residential college?”
Each time we leave Yale, we get a bit better at packing. We discovered, for example, that bringing three textbooks with us for Thanksgiving is probably futile. Sometimes, we realized, it’s better to give away that bookshelf instead of begging strangers to help you carry it from Swing Space to Berkeley. And even the most amateur of packers could tell you that asking your family to wash your suitcase of dirty laundry won’t go over very well (shout out to my mom!).
Yet every time we pack, we are doing more than simply bundling our earthly possessions. As we gather our belongings and leave campus, we are simultaneously processing and consolidating the experiences we’ve had at Yale — a sort of mental-emotional packing, in a sense.
Initially, this sort of packing was hasty, and we brought too much or too little baggage with us to and from New Haven: stale high school relationships, expectations for college, anxiety. But just as with packing of the suitcase variety, Yale has taught us how to organize our brain space more deliberately by sorting our time here.
First, we have to decide what we want to store away in a sort of mental box for later retrieval. Most of us probably won’t have an immediate need for differential equations, James Joyce or general equilibrium theory. Then there are casual friendships, the classmates we’ll be excited to see at Harvard-Yale but who we probably won’t be Skyping with in the meantime.
Next, we must discard the things we’ll never need again, while remembering that even if a relationship was awful or sophomore year was miserable, it’s possible to hold onto the important parts without tossing it all out. But our preconceived notions of those not quite like us — those can go. Or maybe it’s our reluctance to try new things, or our cynicism about college that we’ll leave behind when we depart Yale. (Or, in my case, the idea that long hair was a good idea.)
Finally, and most importantly, we must pack the things that we’ll keep with us forever. While what we store and toss out is just as vital — our mental suitcase is only so big — this is what we’ll want to spend the most time on. As we gather our possessions to leave Yale one last time, don’t forget to pack away the bits that matter most.
The salad bar in the dining hall. Those friends of the forever variety. Tequila that beckoned far too regularly. The fire escape where everything felt significant. The board games and karaoke. That suite. That song. That roof. Every single “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
As someone once said, it’s a wild world out there. Pack well, friends.
Nick Defiesta is a senior in Berkeley College. He was a columnist for the News and the City Editor of the Managing Board of 2014.