A creeping nostalgia has overtaken Yale’s graduating seniors.
To evoke memories of their undergraduate years and to affirm friendships new and old, seniors are taking with them souvenirs of their time at Yale, preserving representative objects to be examined and cherished “through mem’ry’s haze.”
“I don’t want to become one of those old fogies who sits around at the bar at the Yale Club reminiscing about the good ol’ days constantly, but I think that’s inevitable since it’s already happening,” Clifton Jackness ’02 said.
Jackness has been preserving objects from Yale since freshman year. He keeps concert programs with his name in them, a collection of formation sheets from his years in the Yale Precision Marching Band, letters from professors and graded papers — or those with good grades on them — and the obligatory photos of his friends at Yale.
“I just went to the bookstore to get two more Yale T-shirts that I’ll probably keep for years and years,” Jackness said.
For Emily Pressman ’02, these souvenirs already hold evocative power.
“Each object starts me thinking about one particular event at first, but then that memory mentally connects me to a million other memories,” Pressman said. “I’m one of those people who saves everything, so I have [everything from] old papers with comments from professors to a slap bracelet from my first Safety Dance to the Burger King crown I was given to wear to meet my Freshman Screw date.”
Pressman identified one major drawback to being a “nostalgic pack rat.”
“I have a whole lot of stuff to cart home,” she said. “My father keeps saying I ought to get rid of some of the junk, but inevitably I’ll keep it in a box somewhere for the next 50 years and take it all out every once in a while to take a look. I don’t know whether, at that point, it will all make me feel younger or older.”
How do seniors select which Yale souvenirs to preserve? For Christopher Herbert ’02, certain objects possess special meaning.
“I’m going to take my collection of Alley Cat shirts — I have 31,” Herbert said.
Over his four years as an Alley Cat, Herbert accumulated a huge pile of wildly colorful shirts.
“They signify the wonderful time I had with the group — the best experience during my four years at Yale by far,” he said. “Of course, I also have my pictures, to remind me of my precious friends and the meaningful things we shared.”
For many seniors, photographs and other reminders of friends are their most treasured objects. Sara Sternberg ’02 said she finds special significance in “a picture of my friend and I rolling around on the ground in front of Bingham, not caring that everyone thought we were psycho. I’m framing this picture because it will remind me of the silliness that always seemed to hit us when we were together, and often got us in trouble.”
Souvenirs of undergraduate life maintain special significance for Yale graduates of years past. History professor Jay Gitlin ’71 examines these items from a historical perspective.
“I kept everything from my undergrad years — books, papers, old YDNs and New Journals and Yale Records, football programs, even memos from the Calhoun Dean’s office,” Gitlin said. “Decades later, much of this has become interesting primary source material.”
Documents from Gitlin’s collection were among the required readings for Gaddis Smith’s course on the history of Yale several years ago.
“There were many incidental things I saved that the archivists missed: Black Panther broadsides, a propaganda poster for coeducation,” Gitlin said. “I’m very glad I saved all this. Many of these random items now serve as both cool nostalgia and historical documents.”
Such objects also possess the power to evoke friendship and camaraderie.
“A classmate of mine made an etching of a wicker rocking chair I bought at the Salvation Army,” said East Asian languages and literature professor Edward Kamens ’74. “I have no idea what became of the chair but I still have the framed etching, and the classmate who made it is still one of my closest friends.”
Yet such objects cannot substitute for personal contact with one’s former Yale classmates, according to Gitlin.
“All in all, what I did save — mostly paper in one form or another — I now find interesting in a historical way,” he said. “Because I’m still at Yale and because I still see my undergrad friends, those connections are alive and meaningful and evolving.”
Gitlin said that, although he treasures objects and their meanings, he believes friendships exist in time and grow through shared experiences.
“Luckily, they haven’t gathered dust or moss,” he said.
Stacy Lane DIV ’02 has a different kind of Yale souvenir.
“I’m marrying a man from the grad school,” she said. “Maybe that’s my biggest memento.”
For most graduates, then, Yale souvenirs function as symbols of what “Bright College Years” has reminded generations of Yalies, that “time and change shall naught avail / To break the friendships formed at Yale.”
“The good news for graduating seniors is that you will see your friends — at reunions, at weddings, at births, etc.,” Gitlin said. “You will know each other’s children. It’s wonderful. And you’ll meet again in all the same old places. And it will be just like it was — only different.”