As a freshman, I’m admittedly naïve when it comes to my new New Haven home. Like many of my peers, my first official introduction to Yale College came in the form of Bulldog Days; like virtually all of my peers, my next introduction will be the (in)famous Camp Yale.
Bulldog Days was my first real date with Yale College: a too-much-too-soon tryst during which future classmates and I were wooed with affirmations of our inherent brilliance, unshakeable drive and inevitable futures of greatness. Yale came to this date dressed to impress, clad in a series of non-ironic bowties, free slices of pizza, and well crafted — albeit slightly name-dropping — speeches.
The Yale I met at Bulldog Days was classy and refined, its students passionate and proactive. And whether the background music was yet another a cappella harmony or the organist in Woolsey Hall, the message was clear: if I worked hard enough, sang well enough and dressed sharply enough, I too could join the ranks of the Old Yale luminaries lining the walls of the residential college dining halls.
This message was fueled by yet another assumption, one I was quick to embrace: Yale is a four-letter prestige bomb synonymous with success. Yale is peace; Yale is strength; Yale is five American presidents, over a dozen Nobel Laureates, no fewer than 10 Academy Award winners and Anderson Cooper.
And yes, it’s impossible to deny that Yale is indeed all of these things. Our Wikipedia page doesn’t lie, and the impressive resumes of the Class of 2015 aren’t lying either.
Yet for me — and maybe for my classmates as well — it’s easy to get caught in this strange mythos of Yale. Somewhere between Noah Webster and Nathan Hale, I created a caricature of my future alma mater: a place defined not by classes, friendships and regrettable Facebook photos, but rather a grandiose tradition defined by its ivy-covered walls and near-Masonic secret societies. The images were larger than life: dainty cups of tea in richly decorated interiors; J.Crew models with Kant tucked under their arms and Strauss stowed away in their satchels.
As a pre-frosh, I let myself succumb to a fantasy more suited to the pages of “Take Ivy” than the realities of a college student. Amid the bowties and the organs, I briefly forgot that Yale College is indeed a college, and I am indeed a college student. I will read the same Aristotle, press the same snooze button, encounter the same red cups, and pretend to like the same dubstep as everyone else. College is college wherever it is. My college just happens to be Yale University.
Currently, Yale and I are preparing for our second date, this time armed with the mutual knowledge that we will be spending the next four years of our lives together. Upperclassmen helpfully tell me that Camp Yale is, as its name suggests, just like summer camp, except with fewer (if any!) canoes and more (way more!) plastic cups. Goodbye to the fancy neckwear and fancy instruments; hello college — the stuff of Asher Roth odes and John Belushi sweatshirts.
Camp Yale will end, however, and my wide-eyed freshman excitement will soon be replaced with the realities of early morning seminars and six-to-seven page papers, hopefully double-spaced. So too will come the communities: the suites, seminars and activities that will make college my home.
Perhaps I will soon realize that Bulldog Days and Camp Yale are not meant to embody Yale, nor are they meant to define my relationship with the College. After all, Yale isn’t an exploratory weekend for prospective students, nor is it a blissful week sans seminars. Embarking on my college experience requires planning my own dates: choosing how to interact with and interpret the vast intellectual and social offerings — all quintessentially collegiate in their own way — that Yale provides.
As a freshman, I can only say one thing with certainty: Yale is still something I need to figure out. Only by experiencing Yale on my own terms can I define, personally and specifically, what it means to be a Yale student, to be a college student — and, most importantly, what it means to be a student at Yale College.
Marissa Medansky is a freshman in Morse College.
Correction: September 6, 2011
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the columnist.