Places I Remember

This piece appeared in the WEEKEND section of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.

Each time I walk by the swing in Branford courtyard, I think of a morning near the end of my sophomore fall. I’d just entered a “thing” — not a relationship, not a lifelong bond, but a “thing.” There were no illusions: This “thing” would not last forever. I knew the person I was hooking up with annoyed me in so, so many ways. But sitting on that swing thinking about our time together, I felt inordinately, ridiculously happy. Life was working out: There was someone I could stand for more than one evening, someone with whom I shared vibes and sparks and laughs. Sitting on the swing, I called a friend from home to chat about it. I was positively bubbly.

I don’t really think of myself as bubbly. But each time I see that swing, I remember the giddy, effervescent happiness I felt at 9 a.m., a long, restless night behind me, a breakfast date ahead, and nary a dark cloud in New Haven’s December skies.

I walk by that swing on purpose a lot.

Here’s how I’m doing senior week: I’m revisiting sites that matter to me. It’s hard. Nearly every spot has some kind of memory attached—I doubt that I’ll be able to cover them all. Still, I trudged up Science Hill to sit near the observatory and remember my birthday picnic freshman year, an afternoon of friends and chili-infused dark chocolate. I walked past Welch with one of my oldest Yale buds to talk about nights that ended with us returning to disgusting freshman dorms, Dubra on our breath. We laughed about a desperate Durfee’s run in the midst of a snowstorm and the moment she fell over. For a second, I thought I’d lost her: she’s about 5’2” and the snow was piling up. It’s okay: we didn’t lose each other. We don’t plan to.

Of course, thinking about personally important moments isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing right now. There’s a cultural script for how the senior class is meant to be behaving. We’re strongly encouraged to follow it. It’s made up of many parts, this dominant and dominating script. It’s every senior event I’m meant to attend, every person who’s a bit shocked I’m not drunk to the brink of vomiting at the bar each night. It’s what we tell ourselves people are doing. In the telling, we lose our own agency: because they’re doing it, the logic goes, we must too. Hurry, hurry, drink up, and then pout for that Insta.

I call bullshit.

Let’s take back our time and our imaginations. Let’s define perfect endings on our own terms. We’re certainly obligated to do some of the massive, overcrowded events. I know the pain of social obligation: I’m struggling and juggling my various commitments and friendships just like you, and I wish, sometimes, that I didn’t have to. Here’s the beautiful thing: Right now, I don’t think I have to. These past few days, and the handful that we have left, are ours. They must be spent in ways that make sense to each of us, individually. This is the end of Yale for the entire Class of 2014, sure. But it’s also the end of a big, scary four years for us.

For me, marking that end means recognizing, quite literally, the markers of my journey to it. Beyond the neatly packaged dinner-conversation descriptions of how Yale has changed me, I want to reconnect with the very real, very physical signs of what I — what of all us — have experienced.

Places matter. They are often, though not always, constants. So while the swing in Branford belongs to the “thing” that went wrong just as much as it does to my nostalgia for my time at Yale, revisiting it means claiming that site and the rest for a new version of myself. This is a self ready to graduate with the burden of memory on his back, grateful for what various victories and defeats taught him. I’m locating my farewells in those tiny moments I can remember, those ones that are all mine.

So screw the script. I’m molding my memories as I see fit. Right now, that means finding significance in the places here that have mattered to me. After this weekend, it’ll mean visiting those places and moments again, with friends or alone. Each time I do, I’ll be thinking about Yale as not just shiny and institutional and remarkable—I’ll think of it as mine. Here, then, is what I hope each member of the senior class can identify and treasure: their own Yale.

Contact Akbar Ahmed at akbar.ahmed@yale.edu.

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