Camp Yale, for a wee freshman like me, has officially reached its terminus. I’m starting to pick up on the lingo here, from Wenzel to Durfee’s to the correct pronunciation of Au Bon Pain (previously I enunciated Pain like Bain). My midnight strolls from the peak of Science Hill to the crevasses of the Asian American Cultural Center have installed a rough mental map of the campus in my mind.
My introduction to Yale, of course, is not over; the last required meeting, Saturday night’s Kaleidoscope performance, only further strengthened a statement of the obvious: Yale is overwhelmingly diverse, not only in terms of people, but also in terms of classes, clubs and leisure.
You can really do anything you want here — arrive at lecture groggy from an endless night of roving for substance, while your hours away in Bass listening to treatises on critical mass, code the entire night in a space reserved by the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, be known by many, associate with few or isolate yourself in one of Yale’s many ivory towers, chasing enlightenment. Yale is a microcosm of the opportunities offered by the real world, although we live in a much safer and insulated environment, and we can’t really fail here unless we are too brazen to concede we need help.
I must admit, though, that it is exhausting for a freshman like me to make so many decisions. Every choice I make comes with an opportunity cost. As Jean-Paul Sartre puts it, I’m condemned to be free. I’m still kicking myself for missing that Purple Crayon Show (opting instead for Wenzels at the Entrepreneurial Society), dropping D.S. in favor of a more well-rounded schedule and sitting at that mainstream rectangular dining hall table instead of the round one where I’d invariably meet more people.
Of course, there are only so many hours in a day. I’m constantly seeking to stretch the boundaries of what I can do in that allotted time, attempting to drink from a fire hose (I mean this purely figuratively). During shopping period, I tried to package every possible class period with two or three alternatives, in case I decided to walk out; however, I stayed for most of the ones I went to, thus attending less than half of my desired classes. I was unable to steel myself from videos of cute babies altruistically opening doors for people who exhibited need (PSYC 110), Platonic entreatments about how to die (D.S. Philosophy) and beautifully artistic scenes from Italian noir films (FILM 150). The reality is that this semester, having sealed my schedule, I’m not taking any of the aforementioned classes, and that harrows me.
But I still appreciate the way shopping period, and, more generally, Yale, densely packages how much we actually do with our time. We are forced to select, decide and act. Any values we held before are now challenged, fortified or weakened by what we do with our present tabula rasa. Our current choices reflect who we are, what we regard important.
And the end result is this culling; we are forced to cull from these vast fields a more coherent sense of ourselves. It frustrates me that I eventually have to specialize and settle on a major, an activity, a friend, but this acceleration, this compact phase of prototyping and test-driving, better illuminates what I hold most dear and true to myself. After all, I have placed my faith in Yale, where I chose to spend the next four years, to show me the path to my elusive self.
Jonathon Cai is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.