The Saturday before last I had one of my best days at Yale. It was one of those special days that glimmers in the mind, the memory of which I will call up when I nostalgically remember those bright college years. The day was so special because I spent it at the Yale-Army game. My time at the game reminded me of the powerful obligations we have to our school, as well as the ways we seem to be falling short.
As members of Yale College, we ought to create a vibrant community, one that replaces the networks we leave behind. Our ability to create a united and invested College should be an important criterion for judging our success here. Yes, we have other communities here at Yale. Sports teams, clubs and cultural houses all serve as important spaces and modes of interaction for interested students. They enrich our collegiate experience. However, they cannot make up the totality of our experience. If you are not interested in long-distance running, then the tight-knit community I find in the cross-country team is not of much use to you. We bury ourselves in our activities, and as a result, we end up self-segregating and missing out on the incredible diversity that first drew us to Yale. It is only when we have this broader community that it becomes possible to share our individual passions in an enriching way. But I worry that we are losing touch with the College as a whole.
On that Saturday, I got to be a part of the larger community. Sitting on a bench watching the game with thousands of my classmates, feeling our emotions rise and fall as one, storming onto the field after the win, the pride we all felt in seeing how our team played — all that was incredible. Yale is a big place. We always say we love Yale when outsiders ask. But it’s rare to feel a real connection to the other random student wearing a Yale shirt. Events like the Yale-Army game, the inauguration celebrations last year and hockey’s national championship give us these rare moments; they are concrete manifestations of the place. They give us a way to love our whole school, beyond our particular place within it. These moments can build on each other. If I feel connected to the violinist cheering next to me in the stands, I will be more inclined to go to see the YSO when they next play. And maybe he’ll come see me race or read my column. And in the years to come, we’ll both be more likely to attend reunions, reach out to old acquaintances and give back to the school.
And yet I worry that we do not take sufficient advantage of the opportunities to build this community. When I got back on campus, it seemed that most people had left by half-time and just assumed we lost the game. It was a deflating experience, and it shattered the sense of unity that I had leaving the Bowl. Bemoaning our athletic apathy is old hat, but there is a more general point here.
Our attitude to all these events seems to be one of entitlement. We expect the football team to put on a good show for us or else we will leave. If the presidential inauguration didn’t include free cotton candy, would as many students have come out to celebrate? Too often we forget our role in crafting a rewarding college experience. Rather we expect others to provide it for us. The contrast between our attitude toward Yale and that of West Point cadets across the field, standing the entire game to watch their perennially losing football team and proudly singing their school songs in defeat, could not have been more jarring.
John F. Kennedy supposedly got his famous line from an old headmaster, who would say “Ask not what Choate can do for you, ask what you can do for Choate.” We have lost that ethic at Yale and, bombast aside, we are poorer for it. A place like Yale can merely be a four-year detour or it can become a cherished home, the memory of which we hold onto for the rest of our lives. It is only by committing ourselves to the larger community, outside of our particular niche, that this larger meaning becomes possible. So this Saturday, when the Bulldogs take on Dartmouth, I hope you, too, will show up.
Isa Qasim is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His columns run on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.