Soon the senior class will proceed through Memorial Gate into city life and the quotidian logic it employs.
The Gothic architecture and cultivated courtyards we will leave behind freed us for some time from the demands, fashions and expectations of life outside our gates. The strange traditions we employed make sense only according to Yale’s logic. (The Yale tradition that tried to make money by the world’s rules, Mory’s, failed of necessity.)
By and large, Yale and Yalies recognize that the garden walls allow us to cultivate the garden: Yale frees us all from outside concerns so we can concern ourselves with culture. We can start a club here because it seems good and not because it seems it profitable.
If resources are distributed unfairly in the so-called “real world,” they are still distributed. And if we are not going to play St. Anthony and deny ourselves any resource at all, then we will use the resources we have in the best way we can. The resources of Yale are for us to create a space where we are able to create our own meaning, rather than having meaning handed to us.
Here we’ve built a few rooms where a few great people can think about timeless questions. Sit in them. Use them. Enjoy them. You owe those thoughts to society and to yourself.
When I was a freshman, I knew only that Yale differs from other universities because Yale’s default mode is enthusiasm. You can call it a sort of patriotism. No matter the extent to which a sophomore is slumping — upset with her curricular or extracurricular choices, furious because her classmates smoke too much pot or not enough, worried about family or the Red Sox or nuclear proliferation — put a prefrosh in front of the sophomore and the Yalie stands up straight and gushes. What I am calling Yale’s patriotism is best ascribed not to Mother Yale herself but to Yalies. What is the institution after all, but our love for one another personalized?
This happiness manifests itself in the freshman counselor program, which ensures that there are very few deeply unhappy people at Yale, freeing up their friends to make art, play sports and generally to enjoy themselves. It manifests itself in a culture of teaching among the professorate, who come to Yale in order to teach — to befriend — Yale undergraduates. Our faculty loves us and we love the institution. That love, it turns out, is necessary for education.
Because we love this place and each other, we are able to build a community to help each other to learn better. In small clubs of all sizes, we reward merit with friendship. We recognize that if reason is king, passion is his most important courtier.
The logic of the world is individualistic. It must be, and that is probably for the best. But protected for four years by the college’s walls, the student can let down her guard. In the worst of societies, it may be best for people to leave each other alone.
But in the best of cultures, isn’t it beautiful for human beings to live with one another? Isn’t it beautiful to dream of something greater than ourselves and to begin to realize that dream?
I can’t help but observe that the headlines that my class, the class of 2009, read as freshmen and as seniors tell this story quite well. Forget the actual policies and politics motivating these national events. Reflect on what they symbolize.
We matriculated, shopped classes for the first time and promptly saw New Orleans destroyed: pictures of flooding, each man a Noah out for himself and only for himself. And we graduated with a president in the White House who at least uses the language of transcending individual appetites in the name for reasonable community. Who knows whether he will succeed? He is, after all, a Harvard man.
But if we Yalies have learned anything from our Yale, then we will succeed. And that’s a typical Yale conceit: to see American history as a lens through which to understand Yale. For a few more weeks, nothing is more important.
Michael Pomeranz is a senior in Silliman College.