I live in Mission, Texas, and since coming to Yale, flights have been a big part of my life. As I waited to fly back from spring break, it struck me that airports curtail freedom. A disgruntled and curmudgeonly airline employee serves as the first gatekeeper between you and your destination of choice. Then, extensions of the modern police state ensure that you have the proper identification to move onto the real test — metal detectors, body scans and possible pat downs. Finally, you are released into a sealed space containing overpriced restaurants and gift shops and impatient and petulant travelers. As social critic Camille Paglia GRD ’72 described, it is “like being caught in a mass flight of ragged, hollow-eyed refugees from war-torn Berlin.” Airports are terrifying examples of the malaise of modernity — and don’t get me started on the flights themselves.
In many ways, Yale is like an airport in that it restricts our freedom while offering the illusion of endless destinations and worry-free travel. We’re limited by how many classes we can take, by when and where we can eat, by how many sextets there are as opposed to how many people have five friends with whom they’d like to live. More insidious forms of restriction manifest themselves as measures like the student income contribution. You can’t exactly be a carefree college kid when you’re balancing school, work and extracurricular activities.
Somewhat paradoxically, I think we are restricted by what we take to be social obligation. Even though we may enjoy what we are obliged to do, events become means to social ends as opposed to ends in themselves. While the flight attendant might wish you bon voyage, there is no denying that you are here for business not leisure. A friend has a play? Better drop everything and go, lest you be considered a “bad friend.” A distinguished speaker is coming to campus? Better put that in your already filled G Cal, as any missed opportunity to hear someone speak is a waste of the time you have here at Yale. Are friends having a party in the suite next door? How could you do anything but go, lest you be labeled a loser, if not by your friends or acquaintances then by your ego? As a fellow columnist put it: “Well-meaning, unintentional peer pressure is more suffocating than overt coaxing and more effective than insults” (“Rethink party culture,” March 28, 2017).
Worst of all is the pressure to bend the knee to the sovereign that is finance and consulting. I didn’t even know what consulting was when I first set foot on Old Campus, though I quickly figured out that it was the career to have after graduation. Whenever the cabin gets pressurized at Yale, dreams of being a writer evaporate as I aspire instead to live in Manhattan, make six figures before I am 25 and become the kind of bougie yuppie I see around me.
Though airports restrict freedom, we have to remember their primary function: to serve as hubs for airplanes that fly all over the world, at all hours of the day, at all times of the year. The power of flight is one of the most liberating, mind-boggling phenomenon I can think of. You sit stock still at 35,000 feet above the ground, hurtling toward your destination at 700 miles an hour. The same plane can travel back and forth across the same route as yours multiple times a day, and you are completely suspended in a metal can thousands of miles above everything that you know.
Sure, Yale can be stifling and restrictive, but we have to remember that college is one of the freest times of our lives. At least, it’s supposed to be. Preprofessionalism can be defied, social “obligations” can be reconsidered and freedom can be secured, if only we take the time to evaluate what is important to us. Yale serves as our airport, as a base from which we can go in a thousand different directions. Choose the right flight plan. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
Adrian Rivera is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. His column usually runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com .