Welcome, and congratulations. Allow me to introduce myself.
I am a typical, atypical Yale student. In addition, I happen to be “that guy,” addressing you directly in a News column, for which I apologize. I’m just extraordinarily happy you’re here.
Over Bulldog Days, your sanguine swarming will enliven and excite our campus with that special brand of breathless freshman frenzy, on whose wave I am still fortunate enough to be riding. If you’re like me, the Yale clichés will be just as impressive as they’re cracked up to be. You’ll love the architecture, the argyle, and, especially, that comforting, monolithic “Y.” Rory Gilmore, Blair Waldorf and Indiana Jones be damned; this place has weight, and a commanding history. This institution has the precedent of greatness. And now you’re a part of it. Feels good, doesn’t it?
During Bulldog Days, you’re going to be experiencing Yale overload, the equivalent of a three-day sugar rush. The extracurricular bazaar, the midnight meetings, the huge number of opportunities for fun, the temporary-friend making and free food will give you, in a series of three days, a gestalt, all-encompassing, 1000-cc dose of concentrated “Yale.” It will be overwhelming. Why? Because, well, Yale is overwhelming.
We are determined to leave you dazed, confused and starry-eyed. Hopefully, Bulldog Days will for you, as it did for me, exponentially increase your excitement about next year. But beware, mon freshman frère. There’s something lurking behind the pageantry of our extracurricular bazaar, the blinding, gleaming veneer of our school, and our cheery, caffeinated smiles. It’s called Yale Syndrome.
Most of us — but by no means all of us — got over it. I’m still working on my own personal case. As syndromes come, this is not a bad one. Yale Syndrome is the liberal-arts inspired, extracurricular-manifested, social-dynamic driving desire — in fact, need — to do and to know everyone and everything, to actualize every one of Yale’s myriad potentialities.
The syndrome often manifests itself as follows: Find friends, find extracurriculars, find a major, pursue tooth and nail; A, A-minus, B-plus (B-plus?!); go out on weekends, be happy, summer internship, summer job, “international experience”; graduate, first job (a good one), second job, etc. Life success, mediocrity fail!
But somewhere along the way, we forget the real reasons we came to college in the first place, and, in a vital way, we forget ourselves.
You are, numerically, the most impressive class in Yale history; you have had to overcome the steepest odds imaginable in order to earn a place here. Many of you come from graduating classes of hundreds, or even thousands. Standing out from the fray may have required you to take every opportunity, to do both the expected and the exceptional, to work the hardest, to be the best-of-the-best.
But Yale is different. There is no agreed-upon definition of what it means to be a “good Yalie.” Further, you simply can’t be the best here. It’s impossible.
If there’s one thing I have learned in my first year at Yale, it’s that no matter how smart, good-looking, popular, accomplished, talented and involved you are, there will always be someone at this University who is, quite simply, more so than you.
Realizing this was first sobering, then humbling and, finally, encouraging. I found the room to frame my Yale experience for myself, without giving too much concern to self-comparison, or to what was or should have been expected.
The enthusiasm we have here for our pursuits, and for each other, is infectious. Soak it in, be wowed, and get ready to take advantage of Yale’s phenomenal resources and opportunities to their utmost. Keep very busy. But please, remember to look out for No. 1. You put in a lot of work to get here, and your parents are putting in a lot of cash. So, for God’s sake, enjoy it.
I spent the better part of my first term suffocating under a pile of self-imposed commitments. The interesting activities and pursuits that had at first so animated me became less and less interesting in direct proportion to how many of them crowded into my day.
After almost exploding, here’s what has kept me sane: restricting my activities to the things that I find not only interesting, but fun; putting in enough alone time to think, read, and write; skipping lecture to smoke a cigar on Old Campus; only finishing my Directed Studies reading when it gives me something to think about; theater and improv comedy; going to random Master’s Teas; and in general, making sure I’m driving my Yale experience, rather than letting it drive me.
We all know that there is something exceptional about you, or else we wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing your chipper faces at our groups’ info sessions this week. But I’m truly hoping that your brilliance extends beyond your test scores, community service, grades and extracurriculars.
Take some basking time; you have already accomplished a great deal. Do as much as you can, but without getting too caught up in the rat race. You define the terms of your Yale experience.
A friend of mine is fond of saying: “Every day at Yale, you miss out on a hundred opportunities.” I agree, but don’t despair. There are far too many fascinating opportunities here to even keep a handle on, let alone experience. So carve out the small slice of the massive Yale pie that’s right for you. Make sure it’s sizeable enough, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.
In the end, Yale exists for its students, not to compel us to be the best — we’re good enough already — but to give us the tools to do enjoyable, meaningful things with our existing talents.
So, welcome. Yale is yours for the taking. Revel in it, and make it your own.
Alex Klein is a freshman in Davenport College.