Every year, on Bulldog Days, when admitted students ask me what I love about Yale, my answer always begins the same way: “Yale is a place that cares a lot about community.” I describe how residential colleges provide incoming freshmen with a group of friends from the first day they step onto campus. I explain how nearly every extracurricular activity at Yale also serves as a community, hosting social events and creating close personal relationships between members. And I talk about all of the other incredible communities at Yale: religious organizations, cultural houses, senior societies and even academic programs.
Looking back on my four years at Yale, I’ll miss many things when I graduate: the dynamic professors (and the academic gossip), the stacks in Sterling, the lively arts scene, the late-night conversations, the thrill of flipping through syllabi at the beginning of each semester and the privilege of relating my opinions to the loyal readers of this column each Tuesday. But what I’ll miss most about Yale are the tight-knit communities of which I’ve been a part.
In one sense, communities at Yale are simply established groups of friends with something in common. In this sense, communities are important because they make our Yale experiences more meaningful and less lonely. Communities allow groups of people to share joys, sorrows, inside jokes, secrets, drinks and memories.
But most communities are more than groups of friends, and aren’t just reducible to the individuals who currently take part in them. Many communities at Yale began long before we arrived here and will continue long after we graduate. A community is an ethos we buy into, a history that becomes ours, a project we partake in and a legacy we continue. When we join a community, we are instantly connected in some way to all of its past and future members, whether we’ve met them or not.
When I think about the most meaningful communities I’ve belonged to at Yale – the Slifka Center for Jewish Life, the Independent Party of the Yale Political Union and my a cappella group, Magevet – I think not only about the friendships I’ve formed but also about the institutions that have formed me. Through taking part in the project of each community, emulating older members, mentoring younger ones and doing my best to leave a legacy, I like to think I’ve grown to be a better and happier person.
So, I tell admitted students: many people make their best friends in college, but Yale is particularly good at creating friendships through communities.
Yet, the sort of tight-knit communities that exist at Yale simply aren’t as common in the outside world. In the 2000 book “Bowling Alone,” the sociologist Robert Putnam describes how civic organizations and communal engagement have declined in America over the last few decades, leading to a weaker social fabric. Yale runs counter to this trend. The list of undergraduate organizations at Yale is almost certainly longer than a list of social, religious and civic organizations in my hometown of Edison, New Jersey (population 100,000), and I’d bet that almost all of Yale’s communities meet more frequently and spend more time together. Ask your parents, and see how much time they spend engaging with communities, compared to you.
Perhaps the outside world doesn’t have as many strong communities as Yale because of geography: It’s much easier to create a tight-knit group of friends if you all live within five minutes of walking distance from one another. Maybe it’s because Yale provides institutional mechanisms to find others with common interests — the extracurricular bazaar, for instance — that don’t exist yet in wider society. It could be that adults simply spend more time working and thus have less free time to spend with communities than Yale students. And maybe, Yale is just an outlier, and the people who go here are much more interested in community than the average American.
But when I graduate, I will miss the tight-knit communities that I’ve found at Yale. And if we think that these types of communities are worthwhile, and that their existence makes life more meaningful, then we should try to replicate them in the world at large. We should make the world more like Yale, and invest ourselves in bringing people together.
When some of us invent new technologies or own businesses, we should ask how they can be used to bring communities together. When some of us plan cities and enact zoning laws, we should ask what sorts of physical spaces lend themselves to communal engagement.
This is a generalizable strategy. If you’re sad about graduation, ask: “How does the world fall short of Yale?” And then go out and change the world, to make it as bright as the college years we’ve loved so much.
Scott Greenberg is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. This is his last column for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .