As per the terms of my parole, I have been back to campus many times since 1991, and I must tell you: Yale never changes. Actually, I lied — when I was a student, New Haven wasn’t as safe or as clean as it is now. I’ll give that a moment to sink in. Think of it: a dirtier, more dangerous New Haven — something like the Old West, only with Uzis and crack cocaine. Four more blocks to Davenport, (is that guy following me?), three more blocks to Davenport, (better cross the street), two more blocks to Davenport, (does he have something in his hand?), one more block to Davenport, (should I drop my wallet and run?), safe at home (hey, it’s just that guy from section. He looks a lot bigger in the dark). That Yale wasn’t in the brochure, and I’m glad it’s mostly gone. Another improvement: a lot more organized nakedness. But otherwise, Yale’s the same.
And surely the hysterical process of becoming acclimated to Planet Yale hasn’t changed, not a whit since the dinosaurs fell into the tar pits toddling home drunkenly from an evening at Naples. My strongest memory of those first heady days of school is this lunkheaded guy in my college who seemed to get thrown through a different bar’s plate glass window every night. For me, the adjustment was not so painful — something constantly tapping me on the shoulder, asking for attention: “Hey, I’m the library,” “Hey, I’m Skull and Bones,” “Hey, I’m the Daily.” And of course, “Hey, I’m the cute woman in your college who is no longer living with her parents, laughs at your jokes, and is quite possibly using birth control.” This profusion of new opportunities leaping at you is enough to keep anybody feeling off balance. Don’t be concerned; you will take it all for granted in no time.
You might be wondering, “Do I really belong here?” Relax — you do. That other guy got in, and he’s clearly a moron. (You know who I’m talking about.) You might also be wondering, “Does every suite have one jackass in it?” Of course it does — Yale has a super-secret, proprietary algorithm that makes sure. By the end of the first week, my roommate had busted my stereo, covered my bathrobe in foul-smelling, caramel-color splotches (I had to burn it), and held procreation practice in my bed. And I survived. I hate and fear all people from Wisconsin, but I survived.
One of the perks of postgraduate life is the ability to give advice to current students so that they can disregard it. (Admittedly not much of a perk, but you learn to get it where you can.) It is an elegant arrangement: the alum opines, the student ignores — thus keeping his or her mind free and open, ready for the next piece of unwanted advice. Advising, ignoring, advising, ignoring, advising, ignoring — the Cycle of Life continues.
That is why the Yale Daily News has asked me to put down a few well-chosen words for the Class of ’05 to wipe from its collective mind as soon as I write them.
1) Avoid people who feign indifference to the whole Yale thing. They haven’t seen it all — they probably haven’t left Manhattan. And anyway, true cynicism requires the shattering of youthful ideals. Give yours time to get good and shattered before attempting this pose. You’ll thank me for it later.
2) Avoid people who take Yale too seriously. They are equally boring. School spirit is not an excuse for singing at inappropriate times. Also, don’t let your annoyance with #2s turn you into a #1.
3) Without doing anything creepy — and I admit technology makes stalking easier and more convenient than when I was at Yale — meet as many people as you can. The dirty rumor that Real Life is populated by boring imbeciles is, alas, true. Yale is the most interesting bunch of people the SATs can provide, and you’ll cling to your Yale friends like a lifeboat once you’re out in the Big Stupid World.
4) Make up your own Yale as you go along. Yale is a laboratory, make some explosions. Then, as the smoke clears round about April of your senior year, you’ll finally see Yale for what it is — a breathtaking stroke of good fortune, an opportunity you can only be worthy of if you enjoy it to its fullest. And try to live in the moment, as the New
Agers say; a sense of missed opportunities is standard issue with every diploma.
So that’s my advice. Class of 2005, you know what to do. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for those tar pits.
Michael Gerber ’91 was chairman of the Yale Record humor magazine and has written humor for The Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Night Live and The New Yorker, among other places.