I was thinking about GHeav the other day. And I was thinking about the possibility that there will be a time sometime soon when people will not think about GHeav, and will instead think about Good Nature Market, or “Natty G,” as I hear some of the kids are already calling it these days. Some say that GHeav, the concept, is kept alive among the ranks of FroCos, but I have little faith that FroCos will be able to protect this nomenclature forever. One day, the generation raised on Natty G will be FroCos. In moments like these, I wonder how it is that I haven’t even left this place yet, and still it is changing before my eyes.
One could point to many such changes. With the Schwarzman Center, we know that our collective memory is being tampered with as we are asked to associate old experiences with new names and new spaces. All in good time. We will drag our feet, perhaps, but we will acquiesce, be bought — whichever way you want to view it.
On some occasions, there is considerable administrative effort behind these changes. When the not-so-safe Safety Dance — historically held in Commons — was disbanded, some body of collective memory reminded us that Silliman had for time immemorial hosted a boom-and-bust cycle of raucous dances, Safety Dance being only the most recent iteration. We can only hope that a spandex-clad phoenix will once again rise, this time from the ashes of Silliman Screw.
So I learned early on in my career as a Yale student that enduring traditions do not necessarily endure forever. A lesson: Never invest in a costume expecting that you’ll be able to wear it to the same party the following year.
For me, the slight alterations that don’t quite register are the tricky aspects of academic memory. The more I stop to consider it, the more I notice that there are a horde of little things that make me wonder if this whole place and everything it holds might be a three-and-a-half-year-old illusion: the theme party added or taken off the calendar, new additions to the DS syllabus, the discovery of eggplant fries at Alpha Delta, Uber in Connecticut (how soon before we forget that all you need is seven?). So it seems anything, significant or insignificant, can acquire a patina of ancient tradition, or be tossed to oblivion within the span of four years.
But I’ve also learned that more often than not, when collective memory is at play, we have far more control than Yale does over what lives on as tradition and what goes by the wayside.
How many booths at the activities bazaar will be wiped out in the next four years; how many new ones will emerge from the minds of all those STEM geniuses that will soon populate the new residential colleges? Ultimately, we are the arbiters of Yale’s memories and Yale’s traditions.
I find that legacy is a silly and pompous word that sounds too much like death and self-importance. So I’m not thinking about “leaving a legacy,” but rather about setting precedents — about what it means to edit a publication, or lead a tour at the art gallery or regularly write a column that’s only really about something on a very irregular basis.
Given the weight of this institution, it may seem like precedent setting is nothing but background noise. When I arrived at Yale, I was not thinking about how I could change this place that both welcomed and intimidated me. Instead, I wondered how it would shape the person I am now. But Yale is more than an inflexible mold. There’s no futility in setting precedents when at least a quarter of undergraduates will probably accept them as traditions. Nothing is static by virtue of Yellin gates and ivy alone. I get to decide — and so do you — what things change and what things stay the same in the cycle of collective memory.
Caroline Sydney is a senior in Silliman College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .