This is my last column as an undergrad. It is also my 84th column for the News; I’ve been writing them since the first week of my freshman year. I’ve loved having this soapbox. I’ve loved the ability to pontificate and to comment and to perhaps shape the conversation just a little. And so I’ve thought quite a bit about what I wanted my last column to be. I could simply luxuriate in the last-ness of it. I could write an ode to some of the more hurtful Internet commenters (whatever happened to RiverTam?). For a while, I even toyed with taking the News itself to task because of some of its more intrusive editors and its instinctive conservatism.

scott_stern_headshot_peter_tianBut then I kept having versions of the same conversation. “Why did you come here?” a good friend asked me in exasperation, after I had been ranting about kids at Yale for the better part of an hour. “See, this is interesting, because I always thought you hated Yale,” said another, after I expressed a desire to remain in New Haven for a few years. This conversation troubled me profoundly. As a result of my occasional, let’s be honest, vituperation and vitriol, had I given off an I-hate-Yale vibe?

Let me set the record straight: I love Yale. My heart aches every time I think about leaving (which, when you have mere days left, happens quite a bit). I have adored my time here — not all of it, but much of it. I came here because I thought Yale was the best, most undergrad-centric college in the world, and, for the most part, I still believe that. I’ve made lifelong friendships and learned from life-changing teachers. I’ve grown as a scholar. I’ve grown as a writer. I’ve grown as a person. Four years later, I still know every single word of the 17-minute-long YouTube video, “That’s Why I Chose Yale.” Yale is an amazing opportunity, and it is an even more amazing idea.

Yet I stand by my critiques. There is so much wrong with Yale — just as there is so much wrong with virtually every large institution. This University is governed by greedy plutocrats; it is administrated by condescending bureaucrats; it is richer than Croesus — and has some of his more authoritarian impulses, as well. Yale no longer respects the voice of its students. And these students are, in so many cases, conscienceless or apathetic or climby or blind to their own immense privilege.

I don’t see a tension between those last two paragraphs. I love Yale, and I’m troubled by much of it, too. At what point did we decide that those two sentiments were mutually exclusive? “Why do you always have to point out what’s wrong?” a former classmate asked me. What would be the point of writing a column if I didn’t? Yale has enough means through which to propagandize. I prefer to keep Yale honest.

In case you haven’t noticed, my politics veer just a little to the left. So that’s why I’m annoyed by those in the center or right who claim that they love America more than those on my side of the aisle do. That is such crap. How can you love something without actually seeing it for what it is? To truly contend with the profound enigma that is the United States, you have to learn about the centuries of genocide and oppression and violence. You have to see how these systemic problems continue to plague us today. We, as a nation, haven’t solved bigotry any more than we’ve solved greed. In order to love something — a person, a country, a university — you need to see it, warts and all, and retain the ability to be critical of it. Only by struggling to grapple with something’s problems can you appreciate its blessings and understand its realities. Only then can you love it.

If you love Yale, critique it. There is nothing to be gained from wallowing in its awesomeness. There is much to be gained from criticism. Criticism gets conversations started. Criticism keeps us asking questions. Without critical thought, there can be no progress.

Eighty-four columns later, I still have a lot left to say. I’ve never written at length on graduate student unionization; the way Yale treats its graduate students is shameful. I’ve never written about the craven behavior of Yale University Properties. I’ve never written about mental health services at Yale. I’ve written far too little about the problems with Greek life here. Even on the topics I have written a lot about — the Corporation, student voice, administrative bloat, finance and consulting, financial aid — I haven’t written nearly enough. I couldn’t have.

If you love Yale, critique it. Please.

And that’s it. So long, Yale. It’s been amazing. I will be back. Keep on keeping on. And keep on fighting.

Scott Stern is a senior in Branford College. This is his last column for the News. Contact him at scott.stern@yale.edu .