Last week marked the official beginning of spring. Weather.com indicated temperatures higher than 50 degrees, and, across campus, short skirts bloomed. It was finally warm enough to jog up Prospect Street. I savored my first run of the season and breathed in as much (almost) fresh air as possible. As I traced my route up and down Science Hill, I thought back to last year’s early spring runs and reflected on the pleasantly predictable rhythm of the year. This must be what East Coast people mean when they say, “I like seasons” — each spring brings a number of annual events.
Oddly, for me, one of the most memorable seasonal happenings is the room draw. As a member of the TD Housing Committee, some of my most vivid April memories are of number picks and room selections. This year, as a senior, I continued to oversee the process, and it was incredibly disorienting. During the first few room picks, I caught myself wondering, “Where should I live next year? Perhaps entryway D?” I had to remind myself on more than one occasion that I would not be living in entryway D, Timothy Dwight College or even New Haven. It was a very strange and tangible way to realize that I will be graduating in a little more than a month.
I have a hard time imagining a Yale that exists without me. Even when I miss a class, I have the sense not that it took place regardless of my absence, but that the class never happened. Put in these somewhat over-simplified terms, my perception seems incredibly self-centered, and I now recognize that an important part of preparing to leave Yale is realizing that the University will go on, indeed thrive, without me. This college survived for 300 years before I arrived, and will carry on for 300 more.
But perhaps, I console myself, the University is better off for my being here; maybe I have left a grand legacy. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Many positive changes have been made while I was at Yale, but sadly, I cannot claim credit for any of the major ones. I did not introduce the Sustainable Food Project, I did not dream up the Yale-in-Washington program, and I did not fight for financial aid reform. I am proud that I helped introduce pre-registration for political science seminars, but, other than that, the only marks that I’ve made on the University are those I’ve accidentally left in my library books.
I realize that framing my departure in terms of the impact I’ve had on Yale is still too self-centered. I’ve got it backward: I should be focusing on the influence the University has had on me. I have learned valuable skills at college: I have learned how to think critically and how to clear my mind and relax. I have learned how to write a thoughtful, crisp analysis and how to dash off a fluffy reading response. I have learned how use a Swiffer and Dirt Devil, and when to leave the mess for my suitemate to clean up. I have learned when to speak up in section, and when to stop talking in order to avoid being “that kid.” I have learned how to prepare for a formal dance in less than an hour, and (high on my dad’s list of “life skills”) I have learned how to tie a tie. I have learned how to plow through my course books trusty highlighter in hand, and I have learned the importance of reading for pleasure. I have learned how to study for five hours straight in the library, and how to pour beer from a keg.
But perhaps more important than the eclectic set of skills I’ve picked up is the knowledge I’ve gained about myself. Just as crucial as the time I have spent at class, at the News, at the gym and at parties has been the time I’ve spent alone. Before coming to college, I did not enjoy being by myself, but here at Yale I have learned the value of “me time.” At the end of high school, I imagined that my years at this University would be transformative ones and that I would grow though my interactions with my peers and professors. But in fact, four years later, I have not changed much: I am still goal-oriented, perfection-loving and color-coordinated. Instead of being molded by others, my identity has been reinforced by self-reflection. And now I embrace my core qualities, while remaining wary of their extremes.
Finally, I have learned about seasons (no small feat for a California girl); I can now definitively say that it is spring. Yet another telltale sign is that this week, hundreds of prefrosh flocked to campus for Yale’s annual Bulldog Days. These youngsters are smarter and higher-achieving than we outgoing seniors. They represent the future of the University; they guarantee that next year, when I’m gone, the seasons will continue at Yale. A member of the Class of 2009 will take my place on the TD Housing Committee, another medium-sized brunette will run up and down Prospect Street, and another columnist will fill this space.
Emily Fenner is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. This is her last regular column.