Cell phones bulging from their hips, the Class of 2005 converged on campus this week, the best and the brightest offered by a new millennium. They inherit a university on the verge of rebirth, ringed by renovated residential colleges, a new globalization center and long-overdue science facilities.
They also inherit the peril of their ambitions. They are part of the crop of Ivy League students the writer David Brooks calls the “organization kids”: dogged preprofessionals so busy they must schedule time for phone calls with friends. They avoid intellectual confrontation while quietly acing their exams.
Brooks wondered, as some Yale professors and alumni do, whether the cerebral, rebellious liberal arts student searching for some higher truth has been replaced by a new breed of resume-builders.
Despite its confused reputation in the popular imagination, Yale is not all grist and grind. Frisbees still whip through the air here; raucous parties linger into the morning; romance, where it manages to creep through the cracks of pandemic awkwardness, frolics across campus quadrangles.
It was considered near blasphemy when the dean of Harvard this month extolled the virtues of undergraduate socialization. “The human relationships you form in unstructured time with your roommates and friends may have a stronger influence on your later life than the content of some of the courses you are taking,” wrote Harry R. Lewis in a letter to the Class of 2005 entitled “Slow Down.”
It would be hard to imagine the need for such a letter at Yale, where all-nighters are as often associated with late-night chats as they are with last-minute papers. There is still a community of scholars here committed, perhaps anachronistically, to learning for its own sake.
And the sons of Eli are not all wholly self-absorbed. They are active citizens of their host city. Hundreds of undergraduates research, tutor, train, vote and hold political office in every corner of New Haven. This Saturday morning, dozens of freshmen will be introduced to the Elm City through the Office of New Haven and State Affairs’ annual CityScape tours.
Yale, the silver-tongued Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead once said, “seeks students with the promise to be social leaders — by which we mean not just the people who will monopolize the prestige, make the big money and boss people around, but men and women who in every activity, in every community, will bring some large measure of imagination, dynamism and thoughtfulness to the collective life.”
That tradition of scholarship and public service may or may not continue into this new century. Camp Yale, if even for a few days, give us a rare moment to appreciate what matters most about an education here — each other.