This is not the beginning of the end. I’ve had to remind myself this as I assemble my shopping list junior year, painfully passing over courses I now must admit I may never take at Yale.
I love bluebooking. I bluebook early and often. Halfway through the fall semester, I am already deep into the more obscure corners of OCI’s spring course listings. I love reading syllabi, riding the predictable wave of evaluations (there is always the student who thinks the course is a life-changing must-take, the one-word-answer student, the bitter loner who obviously is the only one who rated the class “poor,” the helpful student who gives you tips on getting into the course and a run-down of assignments and the inevitable reminder that “you should take it if you are [sic] interested in the subject”).
Inevitably, friends come to me for suggestions when they want a fun class and leave unsatisfied when I light up about Cartography, Identity, and Borders or Rabbis and Others in Late Antiquity. To be fair, my interests are in magic, myth and folklore, and my bookshelf is crammed with volumes on Satan, witchcraft, demonic tales and exorcisms, so I feel equipped to advise on the weirder possibilities of a Yale education. Any obscure or highly specific course delights me by its sheer existence. My schedules always came together easily.
This whole college thing seemed to be humming along pretty well, I’d think as I pored over medieval descriptions of Satan’s penis for a final paper.
Junior year. After taking a surprisingly strong liking to working in Washington, D.C. over the summer, my fanciful course selections face the intrusion of more history; more political science. Creative writing becomes non-fiction writing, and suddenly those five time slots disappear as my interests split and go to war on the battleground of my ever-lengthening shopping schedule. The urgency rises with each decision of which class to shop. I weigh who will be on leave in the coming fall and brush past that cold reminder that we will not be students forever.
Junior year. The remaining semesters suddenly shrink into a hard, dry and stingy four. Weren’t they once a hazy expanse, limitless? Four semesters. Four semesters to take a beautiful art history class, Harold Bloom, John Gaddis, do an independent study, finally understand economics, learn something about Kant, take Intro Psych. What about creative writing? What about Intro to American Politics? What about languages?
What does it mean to take control of your education?
The freedom of the bluebook, which once gave me such giddy pleasure as I procrastinated by searching random terms like “goddess” and “friends” on OCI, became a mean joke, out to limit my identity and force me to define myself. For a fleeting moment I envied my friends who had gone to college in England and seemed to face only the most meager of choices.
For most of us, our identities as students have always been at the center of our lives. There has always been someone out there whose job it was to care about us and our personal growth. The start of my third year this week beckoned the start of my fourth, and that meant the end of my academic wanderings.
I don’t want to dismiss offhand the fact that when we graduate we cease to be students. Our job will no longer be to decide which course would be the best science credit, or whether poetry or politics will better serve our personal development.
But we would be poor students if we believed that to be the whole truth. As my schedule fell more closely into place and I reconciled myself more to where I am in my time at Yale, that fear — panic, almost — began to subside. As I was forced to let more courses slip away, I also had to re-think my definition of a student.
We are students forever. I believe that. We can always pick up books, form study groups, go to local lectures, watch a documentary. We are here to learn how to learn so we can learn for the rest of our lives.
Shopping period can seem crazy, but remember: This is not the beginning of the end. The path of knowledge does not narrow with each course we pick but, hopefully, widens. While art history courses may not always be around for you to take, art history — and, for that matter, historical descriptions of Satan’s penis — aren’t going anywhere.