This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
We all know Yalies like to use big words. We write essays on mouthfuls like “the politics of dehumanization” and “modes of poetic transmutation.” Our publications are filled with articles on privilege and heteropatriarchal oppression. We’re good at that. But there’s one word — smaller, but equally difficult — that rarely makes it into our discussions: loss.
A few weeks ago, sitting on a Metro-North train back from a not-so-successful job interview, I started thinking about what it means to lose. No word scares me more than “loss.” It’s both the feeling of failure and a reminder of what is no longer there. I began to retrace the things I’ve lost over the past four years: high school friendships, crushes, the chance to be in the Writing concentration, a parent.
We’ve all lost something during our time at Yale. Sleep, for starters. We’ve lost The Game to Harvard every year. We’ve lost Au Bon Pain to Kiko Milano and we’ve lost Adam behind the counter at GHeav. Most of us lost our 4.0 GPAs as early as freshman fall. Some of us lost a family member, a friend, a college master or a roommate.
We never talk about it. There’s no place for loss at Yale. We push ourselves to bounce back into action. We forget the bad grades and the football failures and the unrequited loves. We tell ourselves that we have no time for that, and, for the most part, it’s true. From freshman orientation to senior week, Yale has done an outstanding job of filling our schedules. After all, the University did promise us the brightest four years of our lives.
But I’m scared of tomorrow, when we wake up and leave this school, this place that has turned the word “loss” into an unutterable impossibility. What happens when we lose Yale? Sure, we’ll reconnect with each other at cocktail parties across the world and we’ll keep our overpriced, big “Y” sweaters. But we’ll stop attending Yale Club events so religiously once winter comes, and we’ll wear our sweaters less and less frequently.
Yale has given us a sense of security and resilience. We’ve been showered with free food and resume-building opportunities. But the danger in all of this is that we often measure ourselves only by our achievements and successes, never by our defeats and losses. That’s what makes leaving this school so scary — especially for the many of us, myself included, who have no clue where they will be tomorrow.
But the thing is, no one has it figured out. We wear suits to meetings and sign leases for apartments that our parents could only dream of when they were our age. We use big words to discuss colossal ideas, yet we know so little about life.
I think of Kayla, who’s only 19 years old and works at Willoughby’s five days a week. I think of Mohammed, who takes classes at Gateway in the morning, works the afternoon shift at the gas station next to Popeye’s and works as an Uber driver at night. And then I think of my mom, who lost her husband of 30 years and has only recently begun to smile again. I envy their tenacity and their knowledge. They don’t use big words, but they know so much more about life than I do.
It’s frightening how young we are. We still have innumerable mistakes to make, failures to mend and losses to experience. We haven’t even begun to figure out who we are and what we can give to the world. And that’s completely okay: We have plenty of time. We’re not adults yet; thinking that we are is the worst mistake we could make. We can still party on Wednesday nights, sign up for newsletters that we’ll never read, take impromptu road trips on the weekend.
In the words of Buffy from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (yes, I’m that old), I’m “cookie dough.” We all are. We’re not done baking yet. We’ll sit through Commencement, then we’ll get through the next thing and the one after that. And maybe one day — perhaps in 10 years, or maybe at our 50th reunion — we’ll look around and realize that, yes, we’re cookies. And no doubt, we’re all going to be delicious.
Lorenzo Ligato is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. He was a features editor on the Managing Board of 2015.