Tomorrow marks the beginning of Bulldog Days season with “Bulldog Saturday,” signifying the admissions office’s switch from scrupulous buyer to faux-desperate seller. The occasion finds me a bit nostalgic: Just a year ago, I stepped off a shuttle from Union Station at Dwight Hall. With a free drawstring navy blue bag and an aluminum water bottle, my time at Yale had begun.
To the over 2,000 students who just received the best news of their lives, welcome. Regardless of where else you’re considering, you should come to Yale. Most of you, statistically, will come, and most of you, statistically, will like it here. And there’s plenty of reason for that: People here are mostly happy. Yalies are an interesting, smart and friendly bunch. Yale’s a good place to be. But there are still things you need to know.
Some of you may view Yale as a meritocracy, understandably believing that Yale’s interest in test scores and grade point averages implied an objective barrier to entry. Once you get here, you’ll quickly learn that’s not really the case. Instead, people get here for many different reasons. Some get here because they are — I’m not exaggerating — geniuses. Others get here for some exceptional talent, like playing the harp or writing or playing football. Still others get here because they were slated to get here from the beginning, continuing a legacy of family Yalies or virtually having been assured admission after a family member made a large donation.
I’ve struggled to figure out whether I think these are fair criteria. On one hand, that “holistic” approach makes for a relatively diverse class: Once you get here, you’ll be astonished by the stories you’ll hear and the conversations you’ll have. On the other hand, the admissions process is undeniably erratic. Since you didn’t get here through a purely meritocratic process, you’ll have to figure out where you stand: What does getting in here mean to you? What role do you think Yale ought to play in the world? To what extent will you allow Yale to become part of your identity?
Yale gives you exactly what you give it. It is overwhelming. For the first time in your lives, you’ll be at a place where everything and everyone is somehow in your reach. What you get from Yale, then, depends on the choices you — not your parents, not your dean, but you — make. You can choose to take introductory lectures or you can take seminars with professors who invite you to their homes for dinner. You can choose to attend talks and receptions, the kinds of events that will never go on a resume but will introduce you to some of the most important people on earth. You can choose to engage with our city or you can choose to keep yourself from venturing beyond the New Haven Green. One of the most profound things I’ve found is how much Yale will give you if you ask. I encourage you to spend the next four years asking Yale of a lot.
Most importantly, you will enjoy Yale more if you make a point of living deliberately. You’ll have to define and stick to certain principles. Yale is big and unwieldy, so if you don’t, you will find yourself drifting, wandering aimlessly, rapidly giving up part of your precious four years here. Think deeply about why you’re here. Do you feel some sort of obligation? To your community back home or your family or your country? Do you see a Yale education as a means to something or an ends in itself?
Living deliberately means being willing to criticize. Now that you’re here, you’re allowed to critique Yale while also remaining immensely grateful for it. Often, the things we love most are also the things we feel obliged to dissent from. If you see something that Yale needs to do better — anything from admissions practices to building names — say it. You’ll find that Yalies’ willingness to critique the place they (mostly) love makes Yale unique and makes Yale better.
Living deliberately also means living deeply instead of broadly, constantly thinking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Your life here will be better when you only do the things in which you genuinely find meaning.
Yale is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a lot. But you, prefrosh, are here because Yale’s admissions officers think you can handle it. With that boost of confidence and the gift you’ve been given, resolve to engage with Yale with purpose. For the first time ever, you’re free to invent your own life. You’re more likely to get it right if you think carefully about the role you want Yale to play in that endeavor.
Emil Friedman is a freshman in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .