Four years down and 27 days to go, and I finally figured it out: Yale lies. When I got my golden ticket of an admissions letter, I thought I was set. All I needed to do was study hard, bond with my classmates, find passion in my activities, cultivate a few eccentric quirks, and I, too, could reach the promised state of Eli ecstasy.
I played the Yale game for a while. It felt like I was the subject of an anthropology study on the model Ivy Leaguer — inane meetings, shopworn section comments, dutiful suite-party attendance, clever e-mails, strategic hook-ups, and even the requisite theater auditions — I played all the parts.
Everyone around me seemed to be carrying around a mental checklist. “Find a major and rock the curves?” “Join an extracurricular and become its supreme ruler?” “Be that guy/girl, the one at every party, every time?” The sound of people making checkmarks would have been loud enough to drown out the subwoofer of every neighbor I ever had.
I’m guilty of having lived my life by Yale’s checklist method before I knew where Yale was. After eighth grade I wrote down, “For College.” Below it was a list of everything I thought I should do to get into a “good school.” Eight years later I laugh at the neuroticisms I put to paper. “Sports” and “Enriched English” seem trivial as I finish my career at this “good school” called Yale.
Graduation is breathing down my neck and every time I talk to someone, I feel like they’ve gotten an advance copy of the list I never wrote, entitled “For Life.” My rambling anecdotes and incessant complaining are apparently less interesting than ever, because all anyone wants to talk about is “plans for next year.” They would probably pull out a pencil to go through the checklist shortly thereafter if I wasn’t using it to poke my eyes out.
Plans “For Life”? I don’t have any. None.
By all Yale standards, I am a failure.
Tying my expectations to the collective Yale concept of What College Should Be was disappointing. Studying in Sterling never provoked singing choirs of angels. Kissing frogs (sorry, guys) has yet to yield a prince. The ownership of a sharp suit and pearls has yet to produce employment.
After four years of indoctrination into the patented Yale method of living, it’s easy to believe that life after graduation is a one-way express train making stops at grad school (an elite one), a career (a lucrative one), a relationship (a storybook one) and retirement (an early one). A simplification and generalization? Certainly. An accurate reflection of competitive Yalies’ homogenized concept of success? Yes.
The lie so many of us believe is that if we play Yale’s game we’ll win. We’re afraid of looking stupid and screwing up, so we cling to the way everyone else does things as a guarantee against failure. The only stumbling most of us are willing to do is on the flagstones of Old Campus.
But the truth is that my best experiences at this school came after incidents of pathetic defeat. I got pummeled by my major because I was naive enough to pursue a course of study that I loved but wasn’t good at. I burned a few bridges. I worked the wrong summer jobs. I was rejected by seven different organizations, including this very page when I first applied to be a columnist. A lot of doors slammed shut in my face, but a few others opened because I used keys that this school couldn’t give me.
Certainly Yale won’t be commending me anytime soon — there are no prizes for tenacity or levity. Maybe your definition of success is compatible with that of these narrow gothic confines. I haven’t found success on Yale’s terms, but on my own.
Accuse me of making excuses. Accuse me of abusing my opportunities. Accuse me of belittling your future plans. But don’t question my Yale experience until you question yours.
Sarah Merriman is a senior in Pierson College. This is her final regular column.