“Next year in Jerusalem!” Tonight, Jews all over the world will end our Passover Seders with these words. On Passover, we celebrate the Exodus: liberation from slavery in Egypt and the Jewish journey to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. As a senior, “Next year in Jerusalem” has extra meaning for me: For the first time, I don’t really know where I will be celebrating the holiday in the year ahead.
Passover and graduation offer some interesting parallels. After years enslaved in Egypt, the Jewish people set out through the wilderness to find their homeland, a place they’d dreamt of for generations. Yale, however amazing it is, also includes an implicit understanding that we will ultimately leave, having gained the skills, tools and connections required to achieve a meaningful future and find our own promised lands. All the classes we take, organizations we join and events we attend are meant not only to be worthwhile in themselves but also to prepare us for the world beyond campus. And once we have left, the fact that we’re graduates of an elite institution means that we’re supposedly able to spend our lives doing the things that matter to us and are truly important. We are, both literally and by analogy, “chosen people” with some sort of destiny and responsibility to fulfill.
But where, and what, is this long-awaited promised land? How do we know we’ll really find it? Do we even know where to start looking? In the Torah, the Jewish people had no idea where they were headed and, even with divine assurance, complained constantly on their journey. Ultimately, it took 40 years of wandering to prepare them to enter the land. Will it take us that long to find our eventual homes as well?
Among my senior friends, I see a range of experiences and emotions as people try to figure their next step. Some folks are excited about where they’re headed and already see a clear path to their own promised land. Many others are very aware that their destination, while nice, is just one more step on the journey. Even more of us still have little idea where we’re headed. Maybe we’ve applied for things and been turned down, maybe we’re in limbo waiting to hear back from places and maybe we’re up in the air. Many of us look out into the proverbial post-graduation wilderness and wonder if the destination we’re seeking is really out there. Or, will we be consigned to wandering indefinitely without a promised land in sight?
Unlike Yale, life has no set timeline. There’s no rule that you have to knock out two distributional requirements after two semesters, twelve courses for your major or anything of the sort. There’s no rush. Some of us may wander for a while only to happen upon a promised land nowhere near where we expected it to be. Whatever individual journey each of us takes, we have to try to keep an open mind and a steady step. If we can do that, we’ll get there eventually, wherever “there” may be. And, even if we’re geographically separated, the “tribe” of the Yale class of 2017 will all be wandering together and cheering each other on along the way. It’s one of the things Yalies do best, I’ve found.
So tonight, as my Passover Seder ends, I will raise my glass and think of all my fellow seniors and the countless places we’re headed. Next year in New York! Or Washington D.C.! Or London! Or Jerusalem! Or New Haven! Or some other place, large or small, that none of us yet imagines. Maybe that place will be our “land of milk and honey.” Or maybe it will take another year — or five or 10 — to find it. But my wish to all of my classmates is that however much wandering it takes, we each find that land in our own time. It is out there, and hopefully Yale has given us at least some of the tools to find it. In six weeks, ready or not, the sea will part, and our real journey will begin.
Russell Cohen is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .