Opinion | 6:57 pm | May 23, 2013 | By The Yale Daily News

Senior Reflections

MariaZepeda_Commencement2013-428
Photo by Maria Zepeda.

The following pieces were published in a special edition of The News distributed during Commencement Weekend. Read what some of the graduating members of the Class of 2013 have to say about their time at Yale.

Loving Yale, drop by drop

I didn’t always love Yale. I arrived in New Haven looking backwards, longing with fixed but false hope to return to high school.

Yale suited me fine; I quickly concluded there was no college I would have preferred. It had its small marvels: leaf fights on Old Campus, prolonged post-DS lunches, the two hours spent making friends over pudding and discussion of fecal matter. But I was lonely.

When I came to Yale, I left behind my friends, my family, the school I’d known and loved for 13 years and a city that excited me. I made frequent comparisons between my high school graduation and death. When freshman year didn’t immediately present me with lifelong friends or the hourly ecstatic adventures we’re trained to expect, I thought maybe I wouldn’t fall in love with this place.

But I did. I still don’t know how it happened. Time surely helped. Everyone loves to complain about time. But we rarely acknowledge that time can yield great things, wholly unnoticed.

Time pushes us closer to each other. For a year, I spent a good chunk of my waking hours in this newspaper’s building. I had a deputy I’d never met before we started the gig, and I found him irritating. But we sat next to each other 40 hours a week. We became used to each other — I to his leftist blogs, he to my stubbornness. Somewhere among the cold nightly 3:00 am walks home, I noticed that we were friends.

Prefrosh think they fall in love with Yale on a tour or at Bulldog Days. Some of us have those stories, too — bright sunlit pictures of hikes, discussions or visited classes. But Gustav Flaubert got it right in “Madame Bovary” when he said that’s not how love really works. It’s much more like the accumulation, slow, steady and unseen, of a puddle of water. That’s how I came to love Yale.

Over four years, we become accustomed to Yale. Flaubert’s water pools, and we fall in love. At the same time, we are refashioned as Yalies to the core.

I was at Mory’s recently, eating dinner, not really thinking much of the periodic bursts of song coming from neighboring rooms and tables. Of course I knew those voices meant a prim bow-tied man was drying an inverted goblet with his hair. Then it dawned on me: No one else does this.

I’ve been trying for months to figure out what makes Yale Yale. I’ve even taken a seminar on the subject. I still don’t have a good answer.

It’s not the dining hall culture, those lingering meals with rotating casts of characters. It’s not the fact that the vast majority of us, unlike our Cantab counterparts, cannot bridle our love of our school. It’s not even just how George Pierson put it — that Yale is “at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.”

It’s all of that and something more — something to do with time.

We each have eight terms here, and then we’re out the door. Yale, like life, taunts us with our mortality.

But Yale also has a funny way of transcending time. Most fundamentally, our calendars are whack. During exams, days of the week disintegrate. We don’t really acknowledge holidays, those communal benchmarks of time, either. Our classes start at ugly times like 11:35 rather than a normal, round 11:30.

It’s as if Yale wanted to launch its own Thermidorian calendar, thrusting us all outside the categories we know and redefining time. Yale’s dominion over time signals that we are somehow separated from the rest of the world, that Yale has seeped into every facet of life.

In that recalibrated time, each of us forms our own stories, ones that tick along with Yale’s clock. We go to Myrtle Beach because we have extra time. Or we pull two consecutive all-nighters in the Saybrary — and a custodian chastises us for sleeping on a couch — because we don’t have enough time.

We criticize Yale-NUS, or we deliberate over whom to choose for a leadership position, as if these were matters of life and death — or at least as if they were matters of defining Yale for all time.

But here’s the secret: They are. The unchanging Yale dwarfs us all, and it changes us because we are so sketchily defined in comparison to 400 years of traditions, ideas and personalities. But without us — not me, or you, but all of us aggregated over centuries — Yale is nothing.

When we leave this place, we will reemerge into a world that doesn’t control time the way Yale does. We’ll enter that world with a Yale-colored tinge to our souls. Maybe we’ll seek to make the rest of the world a little more like Yale — a little more passionate, a little more hectic, a little more imbued with a sense that the stakes are always as high as can be.

So when I pack up and leave New Haven behind, I’ll do so with sadness, but I’ll be changed from the freshman who came here alone and afraid. Drop by drop, I’ve fallen in love with Yale, but molecule by molecule, it has changed me.

JULIA FISHER is a senior in Berkeley College. She was the opinion editor of the Managing Board of 2013.

 

Stop pursuing happiness

Freshman year was the strut- since-everyone-is-watching year. It was the travel-in-packs-because-otherwise-I-might-look-friendless year.

The period of adjusting to college is, for the most part, an abundantly self-absorbed time. When in transition, we are given license to think all day long about ourselves, our future accolades, our identities, our appearances, our happiness. We call it establishing ourselves (or re-establishing ourselves, if we felt we were top dog in high school).

Sure, some of that initial navel-gazing was valuable. It was important to know that Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and physics are engrossing and that the suitemate in Room B couldn’t be relied upon for late night conversation when you needed it. But mostly, we agonized too much about our own puny problems, worrying over how we could make ourselves successful, plotting some path toward happiness and acknowledgement.

What I didn’t understand freshman year is the wisdom in that terrible cliché: Selflessness is the best thing we can do for ourselves. College taught me that fulfillment and joy emerge when I stop pursuing them as ends in and of themselves and start serving others.

This lesson is nothing new. In John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s family creed, he writes, “the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.” And spiritual leaders have been advocating for washing others’ feet for quite a number of years now. Nevertheless it took quite some time to drum it into my hands that those hands are most valuable when busy serving others. For some reason, it wasn’t abundantly obvious that “For God, for country, and for Yale” didn’t mean “For me, for my success, and for my pride.”

Looking back, it is obvious. The moments of college that have been most valuable are those in which we stayed up all night with a friend who needed to talk through her paper or the friend who was worried about his parents’ divorce. They were the moments when we tutored our second-grade buddies even though it was mid- terms and we hadn’t studied for chemistry. It was putting together that journal, that conference because we thought it might add joy or thoughtful reflection to another’s life. It was brainstorming how we, as four piddly, little nobodies, could promote community health education. The times we remember are the times we were living with and for others.

Freshman year, we loaded up on Facebook friends and activities. We distilled everything down to our resumes; the service trip to Ghana was about saying we built a school rather than about the children who were going to learn in it. We decided to take care of ourselves first and foremost.

But when we moved beyond that transition time, college allowed us to learn that the real fulfillment is in giving. Somehow, we realized that a résumé gets recycled. Somehow, we realized that striving for fame is, as Banksy put it (in more colorful terms), like “[going] to a restaurant and [ordering] a meal because you want to [take a crap].” Somehow, we realized that folks climb East Rock so they can see New Haven, not so New Haven can see them.

We are approaching another transition. In many ways, leaving college is even scarier since it doesn’t come with residential colleges and course schedules and extracurriculars with defined membership rules. We’ll have to define ourselves in the context of a new community without these crutches.

I believe that as we approach this next transition, we’ll do it without the self-involved decoration and re-decoration that came with adjusting to college. As we move off into the world, it will be with an eye toward the problems we can solve. We will ask ourselves how we can serve others, how we can contribute. We will give ourselves. And at some point, happiness and success will be there. We won’t be able to name the date they arrived, because we’ll have been too busy making our lives a gift.

NATALIA EMANUEL is a senior in Branford College.

 

The Know-Nothings

Recently, I’ve been saying “I don’t know” a lot. It’s become my accidental senior year mantra. Some people have better ones, I’ll admit — live it up; YOLO; can’t stop, won’t stop. I congratulate those who can really live their lives in accordance with those phrases. But for me, recently, the only thing I’m living my life by is how little I know.

I keep telling curious Indian family members that I don’t know what I’m doing next year. And that I don’t know what comes after. I don’t know what city or country I’m going to. I don’t know what I’m getting paid. And no, dear god, I don’t know when I will be getting married.

I’m usually afraid to admit when I don’t know. There’s so much I should know, by now: what exactly an antecedent is, which period of the Mesozoic era had the triceratops and which one had the T. rex, when to use the subjonctif, what exactly to say next time I’m arguing with someone who thinks climate change isn’t real, whether Pelonius or Hamlet says that line people are always quoting, what the hell I’m doing next year. Why don’t I know how to calculate a tip in my head? Why do I still not know how to scan a sentence? How did I end up an English major who hasn’t read anything important and is pretty useless in terms of editing your cover letters for grammar?

But all this stuff I don’t know is starting to feel a little bit wonderful.

Four years ago, on the wings of another graduation, I swept into Yale thinking about how much we, this collective bunch of 1300 bodies, knew. Everyone seemed to know everyone else — and in the case of the New York-bred ones, I wasn’t totally wrong about that. Everyone had read all the same Dead White Guys, and if they hadn’t, they were getting caught up really fast. Everyone knew about their future majors, extracurricular activities and path beyond. People seemed to know themselves well enough to make the right choices for themselves. I just needed to work that summer. I need to get this internship, do this research. It was time for me to adventure. I needed to leave school. I need to go to Europe. Ghana. Ecuador.

Now, our collective pallor has shifted a little, and everyone seems colored with varying levels of not knowing. Some people know more details than others — roommates, jobs, inklings of careers or graduate school — but if I needed a reminder about our youthful lack of knowledge, there’s nothing better than looking out at a teeming, sweaty pile of Yalies on our last Wednesday at Toad’s and realizing: None of us knows much about anything.

I don’t know most people in our year. Graduating today will feel ages away from my high school ceremony, where I was one student in 198. I don’t know half of what our class has done over the last four years. I don’t know everything I’ve missed out on, how many more syllabi worth of books I should have read or what happened on the nights I passed out early or refused to walk all the way to TD for a pregame. I don’t know how many tiny moments I could have experienced in how many infinite alternate universes of my Yale experience. There’s this insane pulse underneath our graduation weekend that I feel every time I pass a face, no matter how familiar it is. It’s some strange, insistent beat of collective experience — thick, invisible drum rolls of everything I do not know about all of you, about what you have done and where you are going. And my ignorance makes me feel the wonderful infinitude of this place.

We are limited on our own, but something enormous together. I’ll know soon, or someday, a little bit more about myself and my life and what I’m going to do. We’ll each begin assembling our stories into something increasingly coherent and perhaps trick ourselves into thinking that we know. If I make that mistake, I hope I remember this pulse, and all of you, and I hope I feel dwarfed and staggered and delighted once more by how much I do not know.

SANJENA SATHIAN is a senior in Morse College.

 

The Reckoning

Some people go out to East Rock to think about their place in the world. Some wander through cities, enjoying the feeling of being anonymous in a crowd where no one knows your name. Wherever you found that space of solace, there was probably a moment or two, at least, when you experienced a moment of reckoning.

Some of us came to Yale with neatly constructed narratives about our lives and our goals. We handed out neat, packaged descriptions of our “purpose,” much like the mission statements we used when fundraising for our conferences and events. Maybe it felt like we could package our lives into these descriptions, just like we packaged these one-time events into neat paragraphs on a single typed page. I found myself doing this.

But Yale taught me something important. My moment of reckoning came my sophomore year, at the end of what I would call my slump. I was desperate to get away: This campus felt too small. I felt trapped by my “purpose” — the type- cast I had written for myself on that single typed page. I needed some clarity and space; I even considered studying abroad.

As it turns out, I did not need to go far to find my solace. I left my room in Saybrook and went to meet Miles Grimshaw ’13 to talk about launching TEDxYale. As we worked to bring TEDx to campus, I found a new space to grow in and to ask questions, instead of just jumping directly to answers.

I spent so much time my first two years here conforming to the definition of “Diana” I had built for myself. I had stopped looking for new ways to learn and be pushed. I had found a comfortable place, but it was smothering me. My mission statement was written by a younger me who didn’t understand what I would come to see after more exposure to the world.

So I tossed it out. I gave up my 10-year plan, and opened my eyes to the other opportunities around me.

The rest of college was defined by new projects and people who pushed me to redefine my conditions for “success.” I found friends who were patient enough to tell me and correct me when I was making mistakes. I went to events and sought out students whose passions for different subjects made me excited to learn more about their talents and research. I spent more time writing and trying to understand what Yale, as a community, was teaching me about my values, my prejudices and my goals for the world. I found happiness in seeing how many different ways people were thinking and doing things all around me.

It was easy to fall into a routine, to settle with a group and stick it out, even when some of these relationships and projects weren’t working. I made the active decision to leave my corner and look for other places I wanted to be on campus. It was the best decision that I ever made.

I still think I have a sense of purpose, though its direction is far less concrete than it was four years ago. I am excited to see what I find along the way, and I know I can trust myself to take on new challenges that fit within that sense of purpose.

I have not given up. I have come to understand that sometimes the best route is not always preplanned. The people that I found at Yale helped me understand that would never be happy on a straightforward path, even if the path was my own design.

Sometimes I still struggle with questions. What will success feel like for me? Do I need to meet a more widely accepted definition of success to be happy?

I realized that I, at least personally, do not. I want my projects to be challenging and give me interesting problems to solve more than anytime else.

Yale was a safe space for me to test my ideas, plan new projects and reach out to professors who became my mentors and confidants throughout the challenges. My reckoning came from the access to different worlds and opinions that I found all around me. I am grateful for the rigor and thoughtfulness of my classmates, the friends who pushed me and the ideas that I could turn into realities while I was here. I leave now with a sense of purpose, however abstract, and know that I am better for my time here.

DIANA ENRIQUEZ is a senior in Saybrook College.

 

For today and every day after

We all want to believe in things. We want to know the world for certain and move facts, figures, beliefs and miscellaneous concepts that we’ve come across — but never knew what to do with — from our column of known unknowns to our column of known knowns. We want to have these things decided.

This beautiful place we are about to leave has gotten in the way, though. Four years ago we all had the world figured out. We were captain of the sports team. We were the budding writer or musician. We were the girl or guy that spoke at high school graduation. But then we came to Yale, and suddenly the world didn’t fit into the neat boxes we had created in high school. Everything about Yale seemed designed to shake away any understandings of what we thought was true and who we thought we were. We failed. We changed a major. We slumped.

But Yale has reaffirmed for us as much as it has denied or confused. We are here today new and fresh, but not totally changed.

Recently, while reading old college application essays with a friend, I realized that one of my personal truths, the discovery of which I thought was the product of my time here at Yale, is in fact something I’ve felt was true for much longer.

At the tender age of 17, I wrote to the Yale admissions commit- tee, warning them of the problems with what I called tracks. “So often we find ourselves on track,” I said. “On track to graduate high school, on track to become financially independent, on track to get a better job. We become numb to the journey as if sleeping though a long car ride.” I was frustrated with the climb and I decided to tell Yale about it.

I was very much afraid that moving from South Texas to Yale would change me. But looking back now I realize Yale has emboldened in me this wariness of the tracks my 17-year-old self had condemned.

We’ve all been encouraged here to have this grand vision of our future selves by our friends and our professors. Congressman. Chief Executive Officer. Senator. President of the Board. Mister or Madame Secretary. You’ve named the title either aloud or only in your heart of hearts. And you know roughly how to get there. The law school to go to, the party establishment to court, the corporate ladder to climb.

But here is my belief, submitted with all the unassuming humility of a late-night common room talk: Our lives are each and every day between now and that day of reckoning, when your ultimate vision of ourselves does or does not come to fruition. Things happen, obstacles come up, and doors are closed. We can’t know that we will get there or that our planning and talent will guarantee success.

Meanwhile, time moves on. If and when we don’t arrive at the destination we hope for — or when life is cut short — will we have lived, will we have loved, will we have done something worthy of our time? The ultimate vision will come — or a new, better, unforeseen plan will emerge — if we keep abreast of our days. If we do the important work that needs doing now. Today. And if we hold on to the people that in our lives that surround us here.

I am not pushing your nose to the trophy case and whispering carpe diem behind your back; I’m not asking you to rip out your copy of “Measuring Poetry” by J. Evans Pritchard and throw it in the wastebasket. But I’m also not saying that we should cast aside ambition for amusement, or that we should lower our discount rates, put o for tomorrow what we can do today and eat our dessert before our vegetables.

We are wiser than to take as given someone else’s predefined course for our life. More able than to wait until our final decades to make an impact on this earth. Smarter than to pass through and not challenge the institutions that carry us through life. And more capable of love than to put it off in favor of less sacred aims.

To a crowded group of strangers I would say, with Emerson, that “the moment a man acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs that out of the window, the world pities him no more, but thanks and revere him, and make his name dear to all history.”

But among friends, I say that I hope as we go from here that we’ll all be like Piglet. When Pooh asks him what day it is, he squeals, “It’s today! My favorite day.”

ZAK NEWMAN is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.

In case of rain

One of my favorite memories at Yale arose from an extremely mundane activity: walking to class on Prospect Street. Halfway through the walk, the heavens opened; my fellow science majors and I were caught in an unexpected downpour. Hunched over, hands shoved deep into my deeply inadequate pockets, I resigned myself to my fate. But then I glanced up to see one person standing out in the midst of the sopping wet, unhappy science majors. She was walking jauntily in the rain wearing only shorts and a bright green t-shirt, totally drenched, sporting a huge grin, her head high above her huddled compatriots.

I stopped in my tracks, staring wide-eyed at this unlikely embodiment of good cheer. She caught my eye; her grin widened. Immediately, I started laughing, and so did she. Drenched, in the rain, we shared a moment of no-holds-barred, unrepressed, enthusiastic laughter. Our fellow Science Hill-walkers looked up in surprise; they in turn started laughing, and soon the whole street was giggling hysterically, undaunted by the pouring rain.

I like this moment so much because it represents, on multiple levels, many of my favorite aspects of Yale. Most obviously, it captures the essence of daily life at Yale: camaraderie, finding humor in the mundane and enjoying every moment — a sense of community that marks each day of our lives here. But on a deeper, more subtle level, this primal moment in the rain captures an important aspect of the Yale experience — something learned more by osmosis than pedagogy: the idea that one person with a positive attitude can effect great change in the world. One person can, and should, make a difference, even if only by lifting soggy spirits in a Precambrian deluge.

At Yale, we learn this lesson repeatedly, day after day, from each other and from our professors and coaches. When my FroCo talked patiently for hours with a certain nervous neophyte, he was not only explaining the details of campus life; he was illustrating the idea that at Yale we reach out, we extend a hand, we make things around us better. When Professor Leo Buss spent hours introducing a naive fresh- man to the great secrets and treasures of the Peabody Museum, he was also teaching, implicitly, the very same lesson — as was Coach Shoehalter, who taught me how to plan for and approach any hurdles in my path (literally and figuratively). And so, when we say that we have received a “great” education at Yale, we are being far more precise than the trite phrase suggests. We have been prepared for a great life in the truest, most important sense of the word. Because “great” does not mean fun, or famous, or wealthy; “great” means doing something large to make a positive difference in the world around us.

When I reflect on my time at Yale, I realize, perhaps more than anything else, how fortunate we have been — fortunate to be given the chance to go to Yale, and fortunate to benefit from the selfless efforts of professors, masters and deans, as well as from the influence of our peers. We now emerge from our four years with a sense of purpose and an obligation — not to directly pay back those who have helped us, but to our fellow man and to society as a whole. It is up to us to decide for our- selves how we define that obligation. Some of us will be professors unearthing new knowledge, some will be lawyers fighting for causes they believe in, some will be doctors, politicians, fathers, mothers, businessmen and more, in each case striving to make the world a better place.

Yale is not just about teaching. Yale prepares us for the world beyond; Yale compels us to seek a higher purpose; Yale commands us to turn our gazes outward. In the next few months, we will scatter to all corners of the world, from Argentina to Kamchatka, from New Guinea to Alberta (yes, after four years at Yale, my knowledge of geography still comes primarily from the game of Risk), but wherever we are, we can reach out, as we build our careers and our lives, to be a positive force for those around us — we can, now and forever, laugh when it rains.

DAKOTA MCCOY is a senior in Branford College.

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