This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
A) Yale is a university in New Haven, Connecticut.
B) Yale College is a liberal arts college. In order to graduate, you must take 36 credits, which average out to 4.5 credits per semester, which means that most people alternate between more relaxed four-credit semesters and more intense five-credit semesters — except for people taking language and science classes, who take 4.5-credit semesters but work harder than anyone else.
C) “Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.” — George W. Pierson (ed. note: vague?).
D) Yale is full of energy. This is the application essay answer to this question. Yale students don’t stop, want to shove 36 hours into 24-hour days, obsess over achievement — “and ideas!” the good application essay comments — thrive under pressure.
E) Yale is exhaustion. This is the op-ed extension of the application essay idea. We are all too worn out. We push each other too hard. Why don’t we take the time to smell the roses/not just sit in the library/ask out that cute kid in section? Sometimes, an op-ed even argues that the best thing we can do is sit around and contemplate life in a new light, just like the writer of that op-ed did, once, before writing it.
F) Yale is full of people. This is the more general response, accommodating — in a reflection on Commencement, perhaps — times, both good and bad, spent in college. We have learned much from each other, and yet we have much to learn. We’ve gotten to know some people truly and deeply — their hopes, their fears, their late-night food orders — and others not at all.
G) Yale is a brand. This is the jaded answer, though it is also true. Yale Blue is #0F4D92. The Yale typeface “is inspired by the late-fifteenth-century Venetian typeface that first appeared in Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna, published by Aldus Manutius in 1495.” Everyone at Yale seems to own a “Y” sweatshirt. Everyone here wants to be a tour guide. Yale is a good thing to have on your resume.
H) “Yale is November, crisp and energetic.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I) Yale is tradition. Yale is William F. Buckley Jr. quoting Edmund Burke dreading the decay of the world’s great. Once comprised of the “sons of Eli,” Yale has grown to include other races and classes — and even women! — if only to guard against the danger of revolution. It still promises the currency of privilege, the illusion of being an exception, only now to a wider audience.
J) Yale is truth, the kind you only find in academia. Yale is the best classes with the best professors. It’s a lack of ideology. The best ideas stand on their own, regardless of tradition or history or practicality, and there’s something valuable in just looking for them.
K) Yale is light — more so than Harvard, goes the joke. It’s those ideas put to the test — truth directed, meaning it’s people who care about trying to be good people, who want to turn their education into something tangible.
L) Yale is the limits of that light. Imagine walking through the Pierson courtyard during Bulldog Days and hearing, off in some distant practice room, the rising and falling chords of some rehearsing a cappella group. Enchanted by the music, you and your friend try to find that a cappella group, but you end up somewhere else instead and never find the source of the music. Yale is something exciting just off-screen, in the next room, in another courtyard.
M) Yale is the fear of missing out. There’s a word, sonder, for that feeling when you realize that each person you pass might be living a life as vivid and fulfilling as yours. Yale is sonder compressed and electrified. It’s the knowledge that in every room and every courtyard, in labs and basements, gyms and classrooms, life — triumphant, despairing, perfectly ordinary — is happening and you’re not there.
N) Yale is a many-chambered Gothic jewelry box of possibilities. You leave with just a few in your pocket.
O) Yale is all of the above. This is the easy answer, because — and this is the trick of a liberal arts education — it’s the most complicated. College is not something you can hold in your hand or reduce to a metaphor (oops, my b). It pushes and pulls on you, and if you do it right, it will change its meaning even after you graduate.
P) Yale is none of the above. This test is too difficult. I’ve studied for four years and I still don’t have the answer.
Jackson McHenry is a senior in Silliman College. He was a WEEKEND editor on the Managing Board of 2015.