This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
I am a worrier. I might as well embrace it. I came to Yale a worrier, and I’m leaving Yale a worrier.
I worry I’ll sleep through the 20 alarms I set on my phone every morning. I worry I spend too much time on Netflix. I worry I said something stupid five days ago and that the person I said it to is still judging me for it. I worry that everyone saw me face-plant outside Commons because I’m from California and still can’t walk in the snow. I worry I’ll never get around to actually doing my laundry.
But I also worry about the bigger things — those persistent anxieties at the back of my mind. I worry I’ll never make it in theater. I worry I’ll cave into the fear of never making it in theater and take a job I hate. I worry I’ll let down the people I care about. I worry about intolerance and our seeming inability to treat every person as a human being worthy of respect. I worry about not knowing what to say, about saying the wrong thing, about saying nothing at all. That I’m too easily complacent, too quiet. That despite all of my lofty dreams of making art and somehow improving the world, I will stay stuck in my own little bubble, my own stiflingly perfectionist mind.
We talk a lot about the Yale bubble. It’s a bubble of privilege and also a bubble of safety. Even as we are inundated with news of the world’s misery and injustice, within this space we can imagine and dream. I’m a Harry Potter nerd, so I often think about Dumbledore’s advice: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I majored in English and theater studies, so I basically live on dreams. But I have to resist the feeling that if my life doesn’t quite measure up to my dreams, I’ve somehow failed.
When we were freshmen, Marina Keegan ’12 wrote so poignantly, and ultimately tragically, about how much time we have to change our minds, to do something new, to try again. She described the community, togetherness and love we have at Yale as “the opposite of loneliness.” She was right. I have never felt closer to people, more supported or loved, than in this place. I’ve found a home in the theater community and a family in my residential college. It’s terrifying to leave that.
But sometimes I worry we’re only getting lonelier. I worry that we are a lonely generation, struggling to decode indecipherable texts and uploading a steady stream of Facebook updates to prove how cool and put together we are. That instead of actually connecting with each other, we are retreating into our own worry-filled minds. I can’t count the number of times in the last four years I’ve heard friends confess that, despite our many wonderful communities, they’ve felt lonely here.
There are a lot of worriers at Yale. Perfectionism got us this far, and it’s hard to free ourselves from the claws of that relentless self-critic — that little voice telling us we aren’t good enough, that we haven’t done enough. In a sea of seemingly perfect people, it’s hard not to feel lost sometimes.
I’ve been trying to figure out what four years here have taught me. I’ve read a lot of books; I’ve done a lot of theater. I have very few marketable skills. But I’ve learned that sharing parts of myself with the people I care about, even the ugly and messy and imperfect parts, isn’t as shameful or scary as I thought. I’ve learned that very few mistakes are unforgivable and that a heartfelt apology and admission of wrong is often enough to mend a friendship. That words of comfort and support, however insufficient they may seem, are never wasted. That even though I don’t know the “right” thing to say 95 percent of the time, that doesn’t mean I have to be silent. That words themselves have power, not just in imaginary worlds, but also in the real world. And that our imaginary worlds — our dreams, our stories, our art, our ideas — can help us fight the realities of loneliness and cruelty.
So I’m coming to terms with my worries. I’m not graduating college all grown-up and put together, but how grown-up and put together are those real world adults anyway? They’re probably all just a bunch of worriers too. And if we can let go of some of the more trivial and self-critical worries, and try to be there for our friends and loved ones and maybe strive toward a few of those lofty dreams, then that’s not so bad.
I took a clowning class here last semester (yes, red noses and all) and our professor told us that actors have a responsibility onstage to be more alive than everyone else. He said that when audiences see that, they want to be that alive too, and so everyone in the theater comes together to laugh and cry and unashamedly feel the great big emotions that we don’t always let ourselves express. But maybe we don’t have to worry so much about these emotions off the stage either. We can be messy. We can make mistakes. We can be inarticulate and bold and joyful and totally alive. And we can worry — just hopefully not too much.
Miranda Rizzolo is a senior in Ezra Stiles College .