I was 15 years old and thinking about colleges myself before I found out casually that my father had gone to Yale. I think he didn’t give any money to the alumni association until 1997, coincidentally the year I applied. His framed diploma is in the downstairs closet, his Phi Beta Kappa key jumbled with loose change on a dresser — the only prominently displayed artifact of his four years at our mutual alma mater is a Yale Daily News picture of him reading a poem at the “Branford Be-in,” sometime in 1969.
I say this not to indict my father but to make an example of him. What he lacks in Bulldog pride he makes up for in perspective. He never traded on his Ivy League background because he saw it as only one of a rich tapestry of experiences that make up his life. And as it comes to a close, I would like to see my Yale experience the same way.
Yale is an episode, an overture, a preamble. There are so many opportunities here, and wonderful questions to ask, with no conclusions necessary. Unfortunately, a lot of us have been conditioned to see this place as a narrow flight of steps toward further achievement, not a broad, open space full of intersecting paths.
There will probably be a lot of talk at graduation about the wonderful gifts we will take with us from Yale — knowledge, self-confidence, connections. But I’m just as interested in what it’s important to leave behind. There’s my unavoidable sense of entitlement, reinforced by the cushy, manicured surroundings. There’s the parochialism of living in a world that’s a 20-minute walk across. There’s the reverse snobbery of bragging about how many pages you have to write and how much sleep you got last night. There’s the frustration of living under the rule of a President I didn’t elect (oh, wait, that’s not going away).
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m glad to have gone to Yale and to have had a wonderfully rich and varied experience here without doing any of the usual things — intramural or varsity sports, Tang, a cappella, improv comedy, Dwight Hall leadership, secret society, Myrtle Beach, to name a few. Not from any innate iconoclasm, though there’s that, too, but just because it proves that this place can be whatever you make it, and I made it my own. I’ll be glad to tell my children that I was Yale Class of 2002, but I hope I’ll be even more eager to tell them about all the stuff I’m going to do when I get out of here.
Anya Kamenetz is graduating from Davenport College.