I sometimes wonder why Yale can’t last forever.
In my mind, it does. Every fall, there’s Mory’s and shopping period and the leaves on Old Campus that turn from green to orange-gold. Every spring, there’s Ashley’s and Spring Fling and the half-fulfilled promise that the ice will soon thaw. We are perpetually students, in my mind, perpetually young.
I don’t want to leave – we all don’t want to leave – because somewhere in these past four years, at some moment in the thirty-two months we’ve roamed these streets and lived within these walls, Yale became our home. For me, that moment was the end of spring break, freshman year. I was driving from New York back to New Haven on what was an unseasonably warm and cloudless day. I remember pulling up to Old Campus to hordes of freshmen camped out on the grass. They were talking, laughing, picnicking, playing guitars whose chords stretched and morphed into the breeze. I watched them and as I did, I felt something new – a sort of radiating warmth – that by now feels unremarkable. It felt like returning home.
I remember something else about that day as well. I remember feeling that this was just the beginning, that Yale lay before me and before us like a road that disappears into the distance with no end in sight. Graduation was something other people, older people, talked about. I couldn’t have imagined today; I could scarcely imagine leaving Old Campus.
A friend of mine, a Physics major, once observed that time at Yale accelerates. I think that’s true. For four years, Yale was the best home we could have asked for. It was a place where we were safe: safe to be ourselves, safe to leap, safe to fall. It was, as well, the place we all dared – dared to make new friends, dared to be alone, dared to share ourselves completely with those we knew only in passing and with those we’ll know for decades more.
And now it must end. This year, returning from winter break for our final semester, I felt something different. It, too, was an unseasonably warm day, nearly 50 degrees by midafternoon. But it was cloudy, and night fell fast. I knew that something was coming to an end, something I could not control and whose loss I could not yet comprehend. I walked to where I live off campus, just across the street from where I lived four years ago. For a moment, I tried to conjure that image from freshman spring, of young students crowding the grass. I couldn’t. Closing my eyes, I could conjure no more than a mirage.
Freshman year, about three weeks in, I read The Odyssey for Directed Studies. In Book 4, the enchanting goddess Calypso offers Odysseus the chance to live forever on her island paradise. It’s a tempting offer. And yet, Odysseus turns her down. He chooses to return to Ithaca – to his home, to his wife – even knowing that these comforts, part of the mortal world, cannot last.
Today, his choice feels significant. I’ve sometimes wondered why he leaves something that will last forever for something that cannot. I think perhaps he knew then what we are just now beginning to grasp. Things are precious to us precisely because they don’t exist indefinitely. We love them for their particularities, their quirks, their comforts – and, most importantly, for their impermanence. If Yale lasted forever, each individual day here would be less special.
Henry Durand knew this, I think, when he wrote our alma mater. He knew that next week, when we have packed our bags, Harkness Tower and Connecticut Hall and Battell Chapel will remain. But he also knew that some part of Yale will be gone, the part we take with us, the experiences and people and places we’ll remember.
And so we leave. We leave so that we might miss this place we’ve called home.