Few things in life are certain, but we can still all prepare ourselves for the inevitable question buzzing around Camp Yale: “How was your summer?” The quick, prepared responses rarely change — you’re a Yalie, after all, and you did something amazing. But every once in a while, a summer transcends the meticulously crafted line of a resume. So before you ask me the obligatory question and expect a simple answer, I’d like to share my story.
My summer probably started out a lot like yours. I was completely stressed out, worrying about everything possible. I wanted to rock my internship while also taking every opportunity to prepare for life beyond Yale — networking in DC, studying for the LSAT and so on. Basically, I unknowingly sunk into misery trying to be the most perfect version of myself. Then one day at work I received a call that immediately made all of that irrelevant.
At the bottom of my priority list I had squeezed in appointments to check out a lump on my neck. My mind fixated on my growing to-do list, but I reluctantly made time in my hectic schedule to placate my concerned parents, But a few days later, my doctor interrupted my so-called busy day to inform me that I had thyroid cancer.
I hadn’t planned for that.
Within one moment, one sentence, my “priorities” dissolved. I didn’t care if I had time that night to pour over LSAT books or if I could keep up with DC fashion standards. I didn’t ruminate on how much money I had accumulated in my bank account or if I had made enough contacts on the Hill. I had zero concern for what size dress I wore or what other people would think when they saw me leaving the building in tears.
Instead, my mind instantly refocused on what really mattered. I thought of my family; within minutes, my dad was in his truck and on the way to bring me to the safety of home. I thought of my brother, who would downplay the pain of his own illness to look after me. And my mother, who would refuse to leave my side.
I thought of my boyfriend, who would hold my hand through all of the heartache and struggle. I thought of God, who I knew had a plan and would take care of me ceaselessly. I thought of the organization I was passionate about — one that valued my contributions as an intern and prayed for my progress.
I thought of an overwhelming number of close and caring friends to contact. Within a few hours of my diagnosis, I made dozens of calls and emails. I thought about the awesome support I felt from the entire Yale community — I received many messages from people I had never met offering encouragement.
If you got the call, who would you think of? Where would your mind go?
As we all rush back to campus, I challenge you to answer this question — make it a staple of your to-do list, topping your macroeconomics problem set and plans of world domination. And if you’re concerned at this point, whether about me or your own priorities, don’t worry. First, I’ve been systematically kicking thyroid cancer’s butt, and expect to be cancer free within the coming weeks. Second, of all that I’ve learned throughout this process, the most important thing is that it’s never too late to readjust your perspective. Believe me, life is too fragile not to.
So what will senior year look like for me? For starters, I’m not going to waste time worrying about things that I don’t have much control over. I can’t change my type A personality, but I know that my personal strength will take me a lot further than any plans I try to make. I’m going to work hard to achieve my goals, but also live life for the experiences instead of focusing solely on success. Although it may sound taboo as a senior searching for a job, I’m not going to spend my time “networking” for the sake of contacts, but rather making and maintaining sincere relationships. I’m also going to make time to hold my family and friends close. In many moments this summer, they were all I had and all I could ever really want. I’m going to rely on my amazing support system and know that whatever the challenge, I will be okay.
In these next few weeks, as we return to campus and each other, I hope you’ll join me in making these changes, taking the time to sort out and celebrate what really matters. After all, very few things in life are certain.
So how was my summer? Life-changing and beautiful.
Shelby Baird is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.