This summer I met the front man for one of my favorite bands — and proceeded to get mortally star struck. It felt something like being paralyzed, if paralysis involved a lot of blushing, stammering and staring at my shoes. Eventually I gained my composure, but I remained mortified; I was convinced that, as a Yale senior, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be so awed.
After all, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to shake hands with luminaries, and I — like any other student — have never had a problem holding up my end of the interaction. We ask pointed but respectful questions at Master’s Teas. We refrain from gloating about our seminars taught by Dr. Ruth or Tony Blair. We smile warmly at the famous faces we pass on Beinecke Plaza, waiting until we’re sure we’re out of earshot before whipping out our cell phones to call home about it.
In short, we take it all in stride: not just the celebrities on campus, but almost everything that renders Yale so captivating to so much of the rest of the world, from the architecture to the admissions rate. While plenty of students gladly inform passing tour groups that this is one of the world’s magical places, we don’t waste our time by stopping to marvel at our own presence here. We should.
Admittedly, it doesn’t seem that Yale needs to get any more caught up in its own wonder; after all, we’re talking about a school whose president enters its convocation ceremony bearing a jeweled mace. But to those of us who have seen it all before, both such ritual and the starry-eyed freshmen themselves are cute at best, grating at worst.
We tolerate all this because we know it’s only temporary. Everybody knows, after all, that while it’s perfectly appropriate to appreciate and enjoy Yale after the first two weeks of school, to remain awe-struck is immature and unseemly. Nonchalance is what separates students from prefrosh — or, put another way, those who deserve to be here from those who don’t. Awe implies a humility completely incompatible with the confident forward motion we assume Yale demands. Under this logic, every starstruck moment is a missed opportunity, every dropped jaw at the scenery a waste of time.
In reality, though, taking Yale for granted isn’t such a strategic decision; rather, it’s a behavior each class is taught. Upperclassmen lead by example, of course, but official institutions play a more significant role. Indeed, the lifestyle students learn to take for granted is in a way a blueprint for that of the “global leaders” Yale wishes them to become as alumni.
Some of this is relatively superficial: Students learn to see Swiss chard as a perfectly normal dinner vegetable, for example. But Master’s Teas and other brushes with celebrity aren’t just playacting for future cocktail parties (though it does help train that sort of conversation); these experiences creates potential for a lasting connection, professional and personal, that might even help the student to achieve comparable success. Notable visitors hand out plenty of their business cards to interested students, which seems an implicit offer of future aid; these visitors take our merit for granted just as we do. The exception to this was 2007’s Hanson Master’s Tea, which garnished largely the same reaction as my encounter this summer (though to call Hanson “rock stars” is generous).
The problem with seeing any Master’s Tea not delivered by a teen-pop band as being useful only for career development, however, is that there’s no guarantee included with Yale’s many offered opportunities for success — and no consolation prize if things don’t pan out. Those who take the Yale life entirely in stride, assuming that it’s not only the life they deserve but the only one they can have, find themselves with no one but themselves to blame (unfairly) when their post-college years prove less rich, in whatever sense, than their college years were. Ultimately, it’s the hardheaded approach that’s the less realistic. It’s absurd to assume that merely getting used to something ensures it will last: Just taking one’s interactions with celebrity lightly, for example (regardless of the lifestyle it mimics), certainly doesn’t help one become a celebrity oneself.
Awe is a far more practical approach; after all, it’s more difficult to be crushed by failure if one never assumed success was inevitable and deserved to begin with. More immediately, seeing Yale as wondrous and unique, something worth being star-struck for, creates a healthier four-year strategy: taking it in rather than just getting something out of it. Taking all Yale has to offer in stride might get you to your destination faster, but there’s something to be said for allowing it to stop you in your tracks once in a while.
Dara Lind is a senior in Branford College.