My favorite band from high school sang: “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning,” and in many ways that song encapsulates our Yale careers. As I ride back from Myrtle Beach in my friend’s BMW with laptop in hand, having just watched the coming-of-age movie “American Pie” on my laptop’s DVD player, the Myrtle experience reminds me not only of the adventures ahead, but also of how this journey began.
Three and a half years ago, four hundred Yale freshmen boarded yellow school buses to inaugurate their Yale careers with a trip to “Camp Yale.” At the Freshperson Conference pre-orientation program, National Merit Finalists, valedictorians and former newspaper editors mingled at Camp Laurelwood.
Despite the similar trappings of the Class of 2001’s bookend “Camp Yales,” the experiences Yale had provided us rendered the last “Camp Yale” remarkably different from the first.
I enjoyed the quintessential college experience at Yale, having been an editor at the Yale Daily News, held student government office, done community service through Dwight Hall, competed in debate and public speaking competitions, allocated three hours to the dining halls daily — often staying long past the end of my meals just to talk — spent nights in the stacks and weenie bins, and even played a varsity sport freshman year. I went to countless parties, had late-night conversations on topics ranging from politics to love, and made friends for life. I have watched ’01ers get engaged, married and even divorced. I have experienced what I mistook for love, and along the way discovered what love truly is.
At my first “Camp Yale,” Dean Brodhead said that college is a chance to reinvent yourself — whether that means a change in personality, value structures or focus of academic studies. Dean Brodhead was right, and during the past three and a half years I have watched some friends trade in their thick-rimmed glasses for contacts, just as I have watched other friends reexamine their sexualities, academic interests and the role of religion in their lives.
And so, as I rode down to South Carolina to end my Yale career in the same “Camp Yale” fashion in which it all began, the setting was similar, but the experience was different. While the conversations on the road to Camp Laurelwood were remarkably sophomoric — talking about summer flings, alcohol and how “Science Mountain” was deceptively described to prospective students as “Science Hill” — the conversations on the road to Myrtle were strikingly mature. We talked about career ambitions, political election strategies, what we would do with the fortunes we might amass in forty years, and even marriage.
The outside observer might not gather all this from a casual look at our Myrtle Beach experience. We did, after all, wake up as late as 3 p.m. each day — just in time for “breakfast” — sleep on the beach in hopes of a tan — and, surprisingly, in a few isolated cases, even drink a couple drops of alcohol. Nights consisted of birthday parties, “power hours” and 4 a.m. dance parties at The Spanish Galleon — affectionately dubbed “Specko’s” in reference to the former New Haven club Gecko’s — complete with flashing lights, multimedia video screens and cage dancing.
We had grown progressively more serious during our time at Yale, and as such, Myrtle Beach was two things for us: a time to relish the friendships we had formed and a chance to party like we never had gone to Yale — whatever that might mean.
My last night at the Galleon, a 26-year-old sales representative for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals named Katie came up to me and told me she thought I was cute. I felt the same and asked her to dance, but reality hit home when the conversation honed in on our careers — despite my marked interest in talking about the Nelly concert she was in town to see. Fundamentally, I was at a different point in life than she and was intent on turning a blind eye to the inevitable transition for the few precious weeks I had left.
When Katie asked me to leave with her after a few songs, I smiled and said I had fun, but excused myself. As I walked past Katie, a hand reached out and whisked me up inside one of Specko’s cages, where I danced ’til dawn to songs like “Material Girl” and “Baby Got Back” with friends from freshman year in the best Yale fashion I could muster — sans aucun regret.
I have the rest of my life to meet 20-something sales reps from Ohio, but for Yale seniors, Myrtle Beach ’01 was a time to bond and reflect with friends for life as this end of one experience launched them into the beginning of another — as Thomas Ian Nicholas termed in American Pie: “the next step.” And I wouldn’t have given up a moment of that for the world.
Gavin Pratt is a graduating senior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a former sports editor of the Yale Daily News and will be working for an economic consulting firm in Boston next year.