There are certain sights that mark this day on campus each year. Stacks of half-opened boxes climb common room walls. Old, visually offensive couches dot college courtyards.
There are the freshmen, who rise early, Blue Books and lengthy shopping lists in hand, to proceed en masse to a class at every conceivable hour of the day. And there are the seniors, who wake up late, often unsure exactly what hour of the day it is or where their few remaining required courses meet.
It’s an exciting time, a chance to find old faces and look for some new ones, too.
All those elements are present today. There is a new class of freshmen and a new group of seniors to fill the familiar roles, and the thrill of meeting new people is as strong as always. And yet, something is different this year.
There’s a tacit unease, a sense of uncertainty that hasn’t been there in the past. No longer can we count on a carefree three months and a routine trip home for winter break. Some foreign students couldn’t come to Yale this fall because stiffer visa regulations prohibited them from entering the country. Others are unsure whether they’ll be authorized to travel home for vacation.
Everyone seems a little more careful now. Camp Yale featured its usual collection of parties and long coffee sessions, but the easy tone usually accompanying the University’s opening days is absent.
A good deal of the discomfort stems from the memories of last Sept. 11, brought to the front of our minds by next week’s anniversary. It doesn’t seem appropriate to be celebrating the beginning of this year when we know we’ll soon be reminded of what happened a year ago. Indeed, it’s unlikely anyone in our generation will think about the first week of school the same ever again.
But it’s more than just sadness about the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, that clouds these first few days. A sense of apprehension about the future has replaced the sunny optimism usually present at the beginning of a new academic year. For the first time in a decade, the nation is at war — a war that could expand as the year goes on. At Yale, the University and its labor unions have given up on the cooperative tone they struck last year, and it appears the adversarial approach of the past will return to take its place.
On last year’s first day of classes, the News worried in this space that Yalies were so busy that they had to schedule phone calls with their friends. A year later, friends are still scheduling their calls. But it’s not because they can’t find time to talk. It’s because they want to assure each other that they are safe.
The contrast shows how much has changed since this day last year. But it is also a reminder of something important that has stayed the same — the value of friendship here at Yale.
In a time of uncertainty, there’s the assurance that we’re all in it together. And if that’s what we take from the opening days of school this year, it just might reduce the anxiety.