It was amidst talk concerning which boarding school was best, what GPA was necessary in order to land a place in a program or what have you, that I heard the phrase that broke my heart: “Yale isn’t about learning.” I, along with the other freshmen in the room, looked on, aghast. If Yale wasn’t about learning, what was it about?
I think that everyone has very strong ideas about what Yale will be like before they ever set a permanent foot on campus. Some think that it will be devoid of debauchery, that the people will be snooty and snobbish. Others think of Yale as a utopia — the place where they’ll get to do everything they couldn’t do in high school, the place where they’ll finally fit in, the place that’s all sunshine and rainbows. People think a million different things about Yale before they get here, and I would imagine those preconceived notions are thrown out the window once people start to settle in.
Yale is certainly not devoid of debauchery (as any Woads scholar can attest), and the vast majority of people are kind and caring. It’s a school, one of the greatest ones on earth. It has produced presidents and poets, actors and activists, executives and essayists. Even if you don’t learn anything from the textbooks, world-class professors or brilliant classmates, you will probably learn something about yourself. Maybe you’ll realize something about your sexuality; maybe you’ll be confronted with an aspect of yourself that you don’t find particularly pleasant. Regardless of what and how you’ll learn, you will learn something.
But after hearing that comment, I’m not so sure what Yale is about anymore. Believe me, I bought into everything that Yale was offering — I cried when I read Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite of Loneliness.” After my second day here, I cried upon listening to “Bright College Years” on my phone. Every time I hear “bulldog,” I think back to that moment when I checked my acceptance status, and I still get chills. So you can imagine my revulsion when I heard such a base comment about what has been my dream since I started high school, about what has been other people’s dream and about what so many people can only still dream about.
What’s sad is that this wasn’t the first time I heard comments like these.
To quote someone that I confided all this to, “I think it’s a prerequisite to being an upperclassman that you act jaded.” I never understood why people were so inclined to behave this way, but I think I get it now. Yale isn’t perfect. The manner in which people realize this is different for everyone. I remember reading a friend’s Facebook post after the Yale Corporation decided to retain the name of Calhoun. One particular line stood out to me: “They don’t care about us.” Perhaps this was the moment that they realized Yale wasn’t perfect; perhaps it had happened before.
Now, whenever I hear other freshmen say things like, “I wake up, and I just feel so lucky to be here,” or “Everything is perfect,” I feel a deep pang of sadness. “They haven’t had their moment yet,” I think. But it will come. It always does.
Perhaps I’m just a depressing fatalist. I don’t recount this story to ruin anyone’s experience.
Rather, I tell it because since the realization that Yale isn’t all I dreamt it to be, I’ve come to appreciate the good things at Yale on another level. The handshake that my peer liaison gives me every time I see him, the invitations and well wishes that I receive from my older friends, the toothy grins from my FroCo, the late-night foosball games with my suitemate — these and so many more are all symbols that I’m cared for. They make Yale feel perfect, if only for a moment.
Life, like Yale, is not perfect, but there will be people and places and moments that make you feel like it is. So realize that while Yale, like life, isn’t perfect, it is what you make it. Make it something beautiful.
Adrian Rivera is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .