I love Yale.
These words are rarely written in op-eds or overheard across campus. Instead, I hear complaining. We complain about minutia — class, life and laundry service. We also complain about greater issues, such as race, gender, sexual assault and free speech. We use words like “privileged,” “cognitive dissonance,” “oppression” and “systemic” to describe many of the problems we encounter at Yale.
While complaining and protest can play a positive role in shaping our University, it too often seems that students lack an appreciation for this wonderful institution. I believe that Yale’s culture of complaining has led to a dangerous loss of gratitude.
When I found out I had been accepted to Yale, I was ecstatic. All of my hard work and perseverance had paid off. I remember calling my mom and hearing her cry over the phone. I remember feeling absolute bliss for the next several months as I knew everything was going to be okay.
Above all, I remember feeling grateful. I hadn’t chosen Yale; Yale chose me. Yale chose all of us.
As a low-income student, I have been given a chance at true social mobility. I receive almost a quarter of a million dollars in financial aid to attend this school. I eat free, lavish meals in upwards of twelve ornate dining halls. I hear countless superb speakers and performances every week. My largest class size is twelve students. I have community support everywhere I turn, from my suitemates to my freshman counselor to my residential college. Every resource is at my disposal. Every connection is an email away. I live in a castle.
Maybe my experience at Yale seems perfect because I’ve been lucky. Maybe I overlook Yale’s faults because I have never experienced life like this before. Maybe I’m overly optimistic.
Or maybe I’m still grateful.
Soon, the class of 2019 will join the jaded ranks of upperclassmen. After our first semester, we acclimate. We get used to hearing Beatles’ songs played over Harkness Tower. We get used to Paul Simon and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, coming to speak in the same week. We get used to having astounding professors, small class sizes and every opportunity in the world at our fingertips.
We come to expect perfection.
So, when there are gaps in that perfection, we rebel. We critique the University through every forum we can, be it protests, Facebook rants or columns in the News. We characterize Yale as a tradition that was not created for all of us. As a student of high financial need, I am constantly reminded of the many ways that I am being “oppressed” at Yale. I am told that I am at a disadvantage to other, wealthier students because I have to work a job to pay a small student income contribution. I am told that I have less access to Yale’s opportunities than students from more privileged backgrounds. I am told that Yale thinks I am worth less than others.
I challenge this notion. I believe that I am more privileged than my wealthy classmates. My privilege lies in my gratitude. Even when it’s snowing in April and I did poorly on a Chinese test and I have four hundred pages of reading to do, I’m still grateful. I remind myself of how lucky I am to be at this wonderful University, and I feel happy again.
In a few weeks, hundreds of excited, newly admitted members of the class of 2020 will visit Yale at Bulldog Days. Some will be from the United States, others from across the world. They will be interested in everything from politics to biology, from a cappella to journalism. Most of them will be nervous; several will be overconfident. Yet, as diverse as this incoming class is, they will all have one trait in common: gratitude.
I suggest we renew our initial spirit of appreciation. Yalies should make a conscious effort to maintain an ethos of gratitude while they are here. When we give in to a culture of complaining, we lose sight of why we wanted to go to Yale in the first place. Furthermore, we risk losing the capacity for productive change. John Milton once wrote that “gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” Many political theorists, philosophers and theologians have argued that gratitude leads to greater happiness, well-being and productivity. Why is it that struggling community college students often seem more grateful for their opportunities than Yale students, who are almost assured success? Everyone, regardless of background, is able to express gratitude.
I’m not saying that it’s always wrong to complain, or that all Yalies are ungrateful. But the reality is that we have it pretty damn good here at Yale. Let’s start acting like it.
Leland Stange is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .