Few people manage to leave Yale the same way they entered it.
Although four years is a long enough time for anyone to transform significantly, Yale’s atmosphere certainly seems to expedite the process. As the Class of ’02 nears graduation, four seniors look back on their four years here and remember how Yale has left its mark on them.
Themistocles “Temy” Mancusi-Ungaro ’02 feels that he has learned a great deal about himself during his time here.
“Yale has been a very big growing experience,” Mancusi-Ungaro said. “Though I don’t think the person inside has changed that much — as in what makes me me and separates me from others — I have definitely learned a good deal about myself over the four years.”
This self-realization is what he considers to be Yale’s biggest impact on its students, and it only comes into full focus when it’s just about time to go.
“If you feel like you haven’t changed, perhaps you have missed out or don’t realize the little wide-eyed, naive freshman you were when you first stepped onto this campus,” Mancusi-Ungaro said.
Paige Herwig ’02 remembers her first impression of Yale. After being raised in a staunchly liberal Iowa household 1,500 miles from New Haven, she had developed strongly negative opinions toward conservative viewpoints. But after a short time at Yale, she said she began to meet tremendously warm, caring individuals — who also happened to be devout Republicans.
“I felt bad about my previous way of viewing conservatives,” Herwig said. “It’s not that I think I’m more conservative now, but I am less blindly liberal.”
Nina Rastogi ’02 remembers walking onto Yale’s campus and immediately being taken down a notch or two. The atypical level of talent that is very typical of Yale students dramatically changed her self-image. The range and diversity of students here yields many different ways of defining success, and although she said she still feels the need to constantly compare herself to others, some of her other characteristics from high school started to fade.
“I was a little more ballsy in high school — more cocksure,” Rastogi said. “Yale has definitely humbled me a lot. I’d like to think that’s a good thing.”
But Rastogi made jokes about her response to the sometimes overwhelming talent at Yale.
“I hope I’m not using ‘humbled’ as a euphemism for ‘scared shitless,'” she said.
Mancusi-Ungaro said he feels similarly.
“I must say that for a while — especially at first — there is a moment that you lose your confidence,” he said. “It takes the next three years to get that back, at which point lots of people think that they’re back at square one and haven’t learned everything.”
Steve Hrycelak entered Yale as a musician intending to concentrate on piano performance. But the combination of what he calls “a shameful lack of practice rooms” and the magnetic powers of the Yale singing community quickly altered his plans. The voice became his obsession, not only as a solo classical, choral and a cappella performer, but also as a music director and vocal coach.
“A lot of my initial expectations changed,” Hrycelak said. “Before I knew what happened I was rushing a cappella groups, in the vocal master class, and student-conducting freshman chorus, and my identity miraculously shifted from ‘pianist’ to ‘singer.'”
Hrycelak went on to be the musical director of the Dramat mainstage show his sophomore year. After two commencement shows, two Sudler projects, serving as the pitch for his a cappella group Mixed Company, and a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival working with a company started by some Yale alumni, he still thinks that musical directing could be his career of choice.
“Though I’m the first one to admit that the a cappella community at Yale takes itself much too seriously, I also can’t deny that being a part of it has helped me grow more than anything else I have done at Yale,” Hrycelak said.
One of the major changes one undergoes at Yale is the point at which the “little wide-eyed, naive freshman” that Mancusi-Ungaro referred to transforms into an adult ready for life after college. Herwig remembers specifically when it was in her Yale career that she really began to grow up. She vividly recalls a period during the fall of her sophomore year when she found, to her surprise, that she didn’t need her parents anymore.
Herwig said there was no way to condense everything she was experiencing at Yale into weekly phone calls, and the two worlds of home and school became even more distinct. And while she said her love for her parents did not waver, the role they played in her life changed as she found she was able to exist on her own, surrounded instead by close friends.
It seems inevitable that Yale will ultimately alter its students in some capacity, whether this manifests itself in new political views or in a career path heading off into a different direction. The funny thing is that it is Yalies themselves who unknowingly change their classmates. It is hard to complain about that, though, because having the world’s most intelligent and talented people rub off on you a little surely can’t hurt.