In the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night,” Dylan Thomas shows the way in which death can expose weakness and regret in all men. He speaks of wild men, wise men, good men, grave men, and finally, his father. The confidence they have projected throughout their lives fades away as night approaches. The end must be confronted with a kind of raw honesty.
That poem has become strangely relevant in the past week. There is a mood surrounding tap night that is similar to Thomas’ morbidity in the way it uncovers a certain weakness within everyone (apologies in advance for the buzzkill). The mood, juxtaposed with our daily routines, becomes almost surreal.
First, there are the overheard conversations. Waiting in line for an egg sandwich at GHeav, rumors abound of juniors who got tapped for prestigious landed societies. “I can’t believe she got tapped for Bones. She’s such a f–king loser.” It didn’t seem like they even knew the girl besides a few cursory interactions. What is it about a windowless building that can bring out such viciousness?
Of course, there are some people who are just mean. But even among friends who have never spoken a harsh word about anyone, inflections and word choices are slightly altered. “I mean, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but the fact that they tapped him …” These thoughts likely reside within the minds of countless others, but are left unspoken, blanketed by a need to be strategically polished.
And then there is the feeling of anticipation and dread right before tap, either compounded by a failure for it to arrive, or vindicated by a phone call with a strange joy. Getting into a secret society is hardly our goal when we come to Yale, but as tap night approaches, it become automatic to look back and think of our accomplishments. Surely, the time we spent here was worthwhile and what we’ve done means something to someone. Once more, people you might expect to laugh it off are sometimes the most seriously affected.
A society itself can be incredibly fulfilling and an eye-opening experience, bringing diverse groups of students together to learn from one another. Societies have made people better and forged lasting friendships. There’s nothing wrong with joining a secret society.
The bigger problem today is the tap process and the way it feeds our crasser ambitions. I’m not sure if this mood is created by secret societies themselves or some deeper insidiousness. It exists elsewhere, I’m sure. It likely has to do with the ways in which respect is accorded to, sought by, and taken away from the privileged classes these days.
When juniors look back a year from now, they’ll remember the weird anxieties of tap night and shrug it off; as most people will say, it hardly matters in the long run. And it won’t. The more interesting issue is how we will handle the undoubtedly countless different manifestations of tap night throughout our undoubtedly illustrious careers.
Whatever system it may be, it is a rotten one, capable of bringing out the very worst qualities among us. If darkness represents the destination at which we arrive after a life dragged along by a current of ambition, we may do well to remember Thomas’ refrain: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Charles Zhu is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.