The Puritans had an interesting turn of phrase — as is their wont: “The purging power of a higher affection.” While we may long for sinful things (gluttony, greed, women’s shins, etc.) the love of God has a crowding out effect, pushing such feelings from our hearts.
At Yale, we are no strangers to similar feelings of crowding out, even if not in a religious sense. We may want more dinners with suitemates or beers at Sullivan’s, but that additional extracurricular seems to push them from our week. We may want some time with a good book or to play Friday IM Softball, but it often appears just one paper away.
To some credit, Yale students are pretty self-aware about this phenomenon. And while we recognize the “purging power of ambitious priorities” that comes with the territory, we are still able to pull ourselves back here and there.
This tension — amongst ambitions, expectations and enjoyments — can come quickly to the forefront next week, as we welcome (read: recruit) the prospective Class of 2017. As hundreds of varied extracurricular groups descend, we see one of Yale’s most vibrant qualities in full force: It is a campus organically distinct, joined in the elective passions of its students.
What emerges is the sentiment we have all heard and internalized: Yale is all things to all people. And, especially compared to other universities, this is largely true. While one could crudely paint with broad strokes the archetypal Harvard or Duke student, one is hard pressed to do the same with a Yale student. (Perhaps with the exception of Nantucket Red shorts.) There is an inescapable cultural ethos here that almost uniquely allows for innumerable nooks and crannies where everyone, eventually, will be able to find themselves.
With this in mind, though, we see how Bulldog Days is not just a time for high school seniors. It is also a quietly evocative moment for us already here who recall (at least to ourselves) that the picture we paint of Yale is not entirely whole. There is another side to the coin — one that is far from as pleasant, and much harder to talk about.
Our time here is sometimes lonely. It is much harder to acknowledge, to ourselves let alone to others, the powerful moments of isolation that come when Yale is all things to all people except for me. Campus mores and expectations almost force us to meander inconspicuously along this path with a crisp smile; but there is not one person who does not remember privately losing such a grin.
This may be the most confounding element of our school, particularly for those of us who have been here for a bit. It is something we all know exists and it is even something we share when we finally let our guard down with our closest friends, or we catch a glimmer of when listening to a stranger. Despite an attempt to label it — loneliness, uncertainty, self doubt — it is tough to put our finger on the feeling that undergirds our time here. In the end, it serves as a baffling, almost illegible footnote to the account of our general happiness.
At its lowest form, it feels like limbo. We shift aimlessly around, unsure even if this is the right place to be. But eventually — for some already and for the rest soon — the gift of hindsight allows us to see that it is, rather, purgatory. Yale is our crucible wherein we endure the grueling process of transformation.
Ultimately, there becomes some part of us, whatever previously unknown vice or fault, that becomes both deeply unrecognizable and profoundly revealing. This maturation is brutal, but the most important part of our time here, both in its conversionary quality as well as its guiding nature for the years afterwards.
The most beautiful thing, though, is the stunning spectrum of how our peers and friends respectively realize that the sunrise is on the horizon. Things will just click. One of my good friends finds his light at the end of the tunnel in fifteen minutes of a perfect Cello solo. Another is striking out a hulking batter from another Ivy. All under the same roof.
Next week, as April couples itself with the campus zeal of Bulldog Days, it is nearly impossible not to think back on our time at Yale so far, be it our first year or last. And as we meet countless prospective students, we should welcome them to the greatest college on earth; but also, while at it, to purgatory.
Harry Graver is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .