Some words can’t easily be explained, but they’re easy to sense. Passion: a strong and barely controllable emotion. The word comes from the Latin verb pati, to suffer. It’s a feeling that takes hold of you so strongly that you suffer, at least for a moment of time.
Most Yale students have probably had the experience of being so excited by something that they just can’t turn their attention away. That moment when you can’t leave a Master’s Tea even though you’ll be late for section; when you forget to go to dinner because you’re so engrossed in a problem set.
Yet it has been argued, even quite recently in these pages, that Yale students do not have obvious passions.
I find it hard to believe that a student who has been at Yale for at least a year cannot identify even one thing that they love about this place. It may be the club tennis team, or a poetry magazine, or a class on linear algebra — no matter what it is, it is something that brings you joy and excitement. This sort of hunger is what drives the energy on our campus — it feels ubiquitous.
Passion does not have to be the scary, loaded word that it has come to mean in the context of our “future.” Passion is an inkling of excitement that you decide to pursue — it doesn’t have to be a thing that you have committed to for life, but rather, something that has the potential to grow into a larger enthusiasm. It’s possible to pursue many things even when we’re unsure where they may lead. In fact, it’s not only possible, but necessary.
One of the criteria that determines admission to Yale is, “who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?” Yale believed that in accepting us as students, we would in turn take what is all around us and use it to better ourselves, in the hope that we might do some good in this world.
We, as Yale students, are enormously privileged to attend an institution with the wealth of resources that Yale has to offer. It is our duty, our supreme responsibility, to follow what makes us tick.
To those Yalies who still say they have no obvious passions, I say that you have failed in your task as a student to make the most of Yale. We are surrounded every moment of our time here with things and people that can inspire us, get us excited, take hold of us so strongly that we just can’t stand it.
I don’t mean to intimidate those who are still less certain: Passions can be developed. The idea that they must be inherent serves only to deter us from following those momentary excitements. In developing our passions, we are in turn crafting our identities. Yale is the ultimate opportunity for self-creation, since we have the luxury of choice and time to think about who we want to become. It is a luxury we cannot afford to waste.
We can wholeheartedly chase the things that matter to us, even when we walk through those open gates at commencement. We must always carry with us this ability to be taken against our will, to care beyond control.
Even as we begin to transition away from Yale, and think about what comes next, we don’t have to have figured out what exactly it is that we’ll chase. Our identities are not quite determined yet — we only have to be determined that we will follow what excites us.
Emma Schmidt is a senior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.