This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
I don’t know when it hit me that I was leaving Yale, but there’s one moment I remember particularly well. Two weeks ago, a sophomore friend asked me over an arepa, “What do you think of your time at Yale?” I stared at her, at a loss for words. I tried to figure out how I could boil these past four years down to a simple sentence. I couldn’t.
Four years here — and nothing.
Over the next two weeks, I tried to find a culminating moment, what my friend calls a “singular perfect” — something that would neatly define my Yale experience. At first it seemed easy, as I jumped through the decorated hoops toward graduation: final exams, Myrtle Beach, society retreat, last parties and gatherings. After all, these activities are designed with finality in mind: I walked out of Luce Hall for the last time as a student here; anxiously received my final grades in an overcrowded hot tub; shuttled from South Carolina to Higganum, from beach to mountain, getting lost on the way.
Yet no culminating moment came. This time before graduation is supposed to be a time of reflection. I’ve reflected, but I haven’t reached an epiphany. The color of old memories has faded. Distracting details compromise the purity of new memories. All I have are fragments.
I remember my first walk into Sterling Memorial Library, right before my admissions interview in October 2010. I sat right there in the Periodical Reading Room with my white shirt and striped red tie. I would come back to that same reading room multiple times in the next four years, occupying that seat with different obligations, worries and expectations.
I am wearing that same tie today.
I remember the first editorial we published in the Yale Daily News, and the long trudge back to Silliman at three in the morning. I remember a growing friendship with my co-editor, the nights of Chipotle and the biweekly howls from the society next door.
I remember, luckily enough, my first college drink.
I remember the security guard in the front of 228 Park Street, the rowdiness of the track house, the softness of Hillhouse Avenue, the first hurricane of freshman year and the soccer game between my suitemates that may or may not have incurred thousands of dollars of damage to Silliman College.
I remember the little pranks, the opening of Shake Shack, the water fights, my daily hellos to Angela in the Silliman dining hall, the troubling rumors about the disappearance of squirrels on campus, the desperate calls home as my country fell into political chaos, that time halfway through Yale when I told a girl I’d fallen in love with her.
I remember the classes: the professor in the tweed jacket spewing wisdom through epics, the oval table on the first floor of 31 Hillhouse, the lunch with my thesis advisor at Caseus, sessions poring over drafts of a professor’s book — reviewing each paragraph six times.
Do these memories mean anything? Dispersed as they are, over time and space and type — in the end, what do they add up to?
A few days ago, a group of friends and I were driving on I-95. We had gone to eat at The Place, and then were on our way to a small town in Connecticut. On our way past New Haven, as the sun showed its last remnants and the moon emerged, we saw the streetlamps turn on. All at once. The tall hovering ones, the whole row. The road became faintly illuminated, the green sign for New Haven slightly clearer.
“Did you see that?” my friend asked, smiling. “I’ve never seen that before, but that must be something lucky.”
It hit me then that streetlights can mean something, or nothing at all. Meaning is not inherent in objects or moments or people; it is cultivated by the individual receiving them, processing them, choosing them. You yourself develop and frame the raw film of life.
What I should have told my friend over the arepa that day was that Yale can be everything and nothing. It can be the big thesis presentation, yes, but it can also be the weekly laundry runs. It can be both the profound revelations and the alcohol-infused ramblings. It can be neat or contradictory or both, mundane or promising or everything in between. Yale is not what happens, but how we interpret it. And this gives me solace, because today, at Commencement, I can decide for myself what this event means: a series of activities culminating in the handing over of a piece of text, or the end of my youth, propelling me forward over the gulf.
Geng ngarmboonanant is a senior in Silliman College. He was an opinion editor on the Managing Board of 2015.