Why am I here?

It’s a question I have been asking myself a lot this semester. As in, why am I sitting in the back row of this gut QR lecture, picking at a Clif bar and obsessively checking my email? Put otherwise: Why does Yale have distributional requirements?

I’m pretty sure I am going to forget everything I am learning in this class, even if I actually put effort into it (which, of course, I don’t). I’m not lazy; I’m just being realistic.

I can just barely recall a time in high school when I was actually good at solving math problems. It’s hard to believe, though, because before taking my gut QR class, I completed an online QR skills assessment test in which I answered 5 of 13 multiple choice questions correctly.

So in the four semesters that have elapsed between my first (and, might I add, very legitimate) QR credit and this one, I have regressed from being a competent and fairly advanced problem solver into a fifth grader. A fifth grader in remedial math. I’m improving, of course, because I have to do weekly problem sets with actual math problems. But in two years, won’t I just be a fifth grader again?

This logic seemed pretty flawless to me. Happily, however, my mother was able to provide some perspective.

I was explaining to her, very reasonably, that I probably hadn’t done so well on my gut QR midterm. Some of the questions, it turned out, required me to have done more than skim the text and play with my phone during lecture. My mother was very concerned. Why hadn’t I been doing my reading, or paying attention in class? She was very stern.

I whined a little, faked some tears, and when she’d calmed down, confessed the truth: the lectures are excruciatingly boring. It’s pretty difficult to focus, and it all seems pretty useless. After all, English majors don’t need math or science. And I’m fairly certain that, after the semester ends, I’ll forget whatever facts I managed to cram in the night before the final.

Still, my mother was appalled. “Michelle,” she said quietly, “sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.”

“Even when they’re useless?” I asked.

“Especially then,” she said.

I was stunned. Of course, I realized, some tasks can be unpleasant. Generally, though, they have a real purpose which provides one some motivation to complete them. For example, I don’t like doing laundry, but there comes a time every few weeks when I really need clean underwear.

On the whole, I like my classes. I don’t always like writing papers or taking tests, but I always feel good for having learned a little more about something I love from an assignment. Over the years, I’ve also enjoyed watching myself build skills I hope to use after college — if nothing else, I’m developing a way of understanding the world through literature. I think we all feel that way about our own fields of study: we enjoy learning from them, and that’s why we chose them.

But that’s not how life works. It’s shocking, I know. I’m still reeling a little bit. But people have to do things they don’t enjoy, even when it doesn’t benefit or satisfy them. Like obeying traffic laws and filling out tax returns — two things I have yet to do — we have to fulfill our distribution requirements, whether or not we find them gratifying or useful in the long term.

It doesn’t matter if you won’t remember a word of Swahili five years from now, or why that painting of that woman by that guy changed the course of Western art. You’re going to take that class and you’re going to pass, if only just barely, because you have to. In fact, to prepare you for life’s inanity, you should have to do more useless things to graduate from Yale, like holding your breath for five minutes, or paying really close attention to Mary Miller’s speech at the Freshman Assembly. Yale students need to realize, as viscerally and as boringly as possible, that life doesn’t make sense. I spent too much time feeling fulfilled and thoroughly educated by my program of study at Yale. Nothing should work that efficiently, and no one should be that satisfied. It simply isn’t natural.

Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, especially when they waste our time. And that’s why we have distribution requirements.

Michelle Taylor is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at michelle.a.taylor@yale.edu.