I’ve been scared of writing this column for a long time. Doing things for the last time is scary: scary because of how your life may change once they’re done, scary because there’s always more to get out of an experience than what you’ve already got and scary because you’re worried you’ve bungled it. Mess up your last shot, and you feel that all you did before becomes tainted.
But endings are scary for a reason; they give us a chance to reflect on what, if anything, we’ve learned. This particular ending gives me an excuse for a little generalizing and sentimentality in print. So, here goes …
Most of us wish to leave a mark during our time here, and we do. We move others with our plays and poems and paintings; we work with each other in jobs and internships. We take classes with other people, instead of studying by ourselves à la Oxford, because learning together can be more powerful than learning apart. We go abroad together, explore New Haven together and live together; each of our experiences becomes more powerful because it’s been shared. We build lasting friendships here, affecting each other’s lives now and in the future.
But as much as we affect others during our time here, we most of all affect ourselves. Turning in a really good or bad paper or giving a heartrending (or heartrendingly awful) performance may change what a professor or spectator thinks of you — but regardless, it’ll probably have the biggest impact on the way you think of yourself.
By spending our time researching or drinking or acting or talking with friends, we define our own experience of these four years. Our peers might care a little about the choices we make, but we’re the ones who will remember them most. I’ll worry about this column once it’s been printed, and I may be embarrassed by it when I reread it in future years. But most of you will probably stop thinking about it pretty soon.
If we are to be our own judges, the stakes of our time at Yale can seem unimaginably high. We have so many opportunities here, and we’ll regret all our missed chances and half-efforts and full failures for years to come.
But only a few of those things that are special about Yale actually disappear when we graduate. Yale has tremendous financial resources, but those of us who make it a priority will usually find the necessary resources wherever we go. Our campus is populated by smart, ambitious and creative people — but the globe’s supply of smart, ambitious and creative people would be hardly diminished without this small patch of ground in New Haven. Many of us have made our best friends here, but the thing about best friends is that you make and keep them irrespective of institutional context.
So certainly I regret a lot of what I’ve missed out on here: classes I should have taken, clubs I should have (or never should have!) joined, papers and exams I wish I’d tried harder on, parties I wish I’d gone to. People with any time left here should probably stop wasting their time reading this, and instead go out and make the most of it. But we’ll be missing opportunities for our whole lives, even while we hopefully manage to seize a few.
Endings are scary — but this isn’t really an ending at all. We shouldn’t get so worked up about this particular four-year chapter, when we don’t yet have kids and we hopefully don’t have to care for parents just yet. Our lives are still ours to mess up. That process has just barely begun.
Harry Larson is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .