Seniors currently have more free time on their hands than at any other point during their Yale career. Most are done with the job hunt and know where they are going to be after graduation. Extracurricular responsibilities typically subside after junior year. Departmental requirements and senior theses are finishing up too.
What I want to ask those about to graduate is this: How will you make the most of your freedom? Traditionally, the Senior Class Council has presented Feb Club, Masquerade Ball and a score of parties all the way through Senior Week as the answer to this interlude. Graduation is an ending, and endings call for celebrating the only way our generation knows how: with lots of sensory stimuli and not enough personal space, a fleeting escape from inevitable truths.
As a FroCo, I was on duty a majority of these senior event nights. And it really wasn’t that bad. Acknowledging that I would be spending many of my nights in, I decided to audit a Russian literature class. I read “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” in my final semester of college. Reading such beautiful prose and engrossing stories provided me with a deep feeling of satisfaction as I ended my time as an undergraduate.
I made the most out of Yale’s resources and opportunities, just as I was told to do when I arrived. But this no longer seems like enough. I find myself wondering whether the indulgence of literature and knowledge is any different from the indulgence of alcohol. Is it any less utility-driven?
As an aspiring physician who has spent time shadowing terminal cancer patients, I’ve seen my fair share of endings. The terminally ill do not have a Feb Club, nor do they seem to want one. The patients and the families I’ve met at the hospital are looking for very different things. They crave simple pleasures — companionship, comfort, love. They resist the idea of being drugged. Their eyes are open. They want to engage with the world. Perhaps most importantly, they think about the legacy they want to leave behind.
And in many ways, I feel the same way. As I stand poised to graduate again this May, I want to believe that my time at Yale mattered, that I didn’t come and go for nothing.
By remaining in New Haven another year, I have been able to witness my former FroCo group grow up. That growth is a privilege to witness. Ironically, even though I no longer have swipe access to my own residential college, I’ve become more committed to providing mentorship to those freshmen who seek it. In this way, the knowledge and wisdom I’ve accumulated through my own struggles are not in vain. When I finally leave New Haven, I hope to have made a mark in some way.
You don’t have to be a FroCo to leave a legacy. There are over 50 volunteer groups at Dwight Hall. If the senior class could collectively contribute toward these service projects, the impact would be extensive and significant. Beyond the lives that would be improved by these acts of service, seniors would send an important message to younger and future classes about responsibility, purpose and living well in the face of an imminent conclusion. What if we celebrated those who performed public service and made an impact on their community over those who partied every night of a month? These folks should be the real all-stars.
Eighty seven. That’s how many days we have left before commencement. In that sense, we are lucky. The dying don’t know when their time is up. It’s more difficult for them to plan because they can’t predict a time frame for that plan.
But for us, May 23 is an absolute certainty. What will we do with that knowledge?
Johnathan Yao is a 2015 graduate of Jonathan Edwards College and will graduate from the School of Public Health in 2016. Contact him at email@example.com .