This column was published as part of the special Commencement Issue for the Class of 2014.
Last October, I went on the Yale Farm Tour with my partner. As we were plucking red apples from the rows of trees, we stopped to ask the farmer about the orchard’s growth cycle. He mentioned the natural protective wax coating that the apples develop, and then he said something so simple and poetic that it struck me then and continues to resonate in my heart now.
“The colder the weather gets, the more the apples sweeten and blush,” he explained, thick farmer’s gloves tucked into his belt and a light smudge of dirt gleaming to the right of his nose. In many ways, my time at Yale has come to reflect that truth.
Somewhere along these four years, we have crafted a new maturity, a result of time spent at the top of campus organizations (and at the bottom), time spent waiting nervously with loved ones in Yale Health anterooms, time spent simply sitting and appreciating the exquisite leaves of the TD gingko set against noble brick. We questioned assumptions of all kinds in seminars, on rumpled snow-ravaged lawns, in the pages of this newspaper and in chambers with firefly lights twinkling.
As much as I value the skills, composure and healthy awareness of my strengths and weaknesses that have been impressed upon me at Yale, I find myself detesting parts of this revised self. I hate my knee-jerk practicality; I’m bored of my middle-of-the-road approach. My halting reluctance to challenge those who wield power makes me wonder how the fifth grader who led an anti-war rally in Bohemian San Diego slipped away.
Perchance, as Jim Sleeper warned in an address to students last September, “discretion and caution at Yale have been carried too far” and have morphed into self-censorship. Do our efforts to make ideologies and theories more palatable or empirical strip us of our authentic voice? Or is a conciliatory attitude more likely to achieve systemic change? The answer is much murkier than I once believed.
I know I am not alone in feeling sapped by the pressure to conform to expectations of achieving wealth and eminence. I have experienced crippling self-doubt for the first time as a student at this University, and judging from my conversations with other Yalies, many of you have too. But I also know that at Yale, we have done some of our lives’ most important learning, whether in classrooms or in common rooms.
Ten days ago, I took a train, the 56 Vermonter, up north to visit an old friend. Perhaps, having just turned in my last piece of work for my undergraduate degree, I was feeling overly sentimental and reflective. As we rolled through stations and stops — Amherst, Bethel, Windsor — I poured through my catalog of recollections from the past four years, sensing faces I had let slip behind curtains of memory.
Names filtered through the evergreens along the tracks like sunlight: the boy who took me to Trolley Night freshman year, the incredible DUS of my major who passed away from cancer two years ago, the Yale policemen who carried me over snow banks to the hospital after I broke my ankle during Nemo.
Class of 2014, we climbed onto this train at different stops, and we are traveling to different end points. We don’t know when we will see each other again, or who will come back for reunions; who will lose sight of their ideals and then find them anew in fifteen years. But we have the beauty of the time we had together, and that is enough.
Katherine Aragón is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.