DURNING-HAMMOND: The size of things

commencement
Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

This column was published as part of the special Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.

When I arrived at Yale four years ago, it felt vast. The number of reading rooms in Sterling seemed infinite. The Blue Book on my desk in L-Dub was decidedly and imposingly thick. The network of off-campus apartments and houses that I attempted to navigate on weekend nights was bewildering and exciting, even exotic. The spread of buildings stretched out and out, and each one seemed to consistently contain staircases that I hadn’t seen before, even if I went to class there twice a week. My classmates were from everywhere. The upperclassmen theater majors were outrageously cool and savvy. There were enough dining halls that I had to actively try to go to all of them, and the process took a few weeks. Yale was big.

Retrospectively, though, the world felt pretty small. Of course, I knew that the world was a large and amazing place in which complicated things happened. I took World History in high school; my parents set the homepage of our desktop to the New York Times; I had a calendar of pictures of the Greek Isles and I really wanted to go there. But the scope of my sense of the world was limited. Events that I heard about seemed solitary and specific, as if they were bordered by a blurry, smooth wash, rather than interconnected to hundreds of other events that could likewise all be put into sharp focus. The world was happening out there — and I was a senior in high school going to rehearsal and finishing my classes.

Then slowly, relentlessly, dizzyingly, beautifully, quickly, Yale happened. It’s four years later, and things feel all flipped around. The world is huge, and hugely complicated. The number of important avenues of thought and study that people can explore is boundless. There is no end to the different possibilities about how to live and think about living. History is giant; the world is giant. It’s all inextricably interconnected, and I’ll never know about most of it. Yale has taught me a lot about theater, quite a bit about English novels and poetry and some about a lot of other topics.  And it has given me a sense of the world’s enormity, nuance, intricacy and scale.

Yale itself, on the other hand, feels pretty small. Of course, it’s still abundantly resourced and rich with stimulating opportunities. Now though, I feel like I know what’s up. I may not have found every reading room in Sterling, but I’ve spent hours in many of them. I know how to bluebook confidently, and instead of being amazed by Lynwood Street, I live on it. My classmates are from all over and have followed individual paths here, but we’ve shared four years in the same place with collective experiences. And listen, as an upperclassman theater major, I think my peers and I are totally cool, but we’re still just us. I’m not on the meal plan anymore, but I know what I’m doing when it comes to the dining halls: I love a warm, multi-coursed Pierson lunch, and I am all about the fruit fridge in Trumbull.

Yale has given me the tools to navigate this place — my experiences here are what made it possible for “here” to seem small. Now I’ll go out and navigate the world, which, I hope, will never seem small again. I don’t think it will.

Laurel Durning-Hammond is a senior in Pierson College.

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