Earlier in the semester, a friend and I sat together late at night, reflecting on the proximate and competitive nature of Yale. We exchanged stories about mutual friends who nearly broke up over an award. We reflected on how interpersonal dynamics can become strained from living so close to all of our friends. We both had stories to tell about suites splitting up or two close friends both gunning for the same prestigious internship. I told my friend that I was fearful of what Yale was turning me into; I feared the pull of the competition in every sphere of my life from academics to extracurricular activities.
He said that I should just accept it.
It seems, now, at the end of the semester, that these tensions are becoming more apparent. There seem to be countless articles about competition surrounding the college admissions process, with catchy titles like “The Three Types of Students Who Get Into the Ivy League” and “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” Nevertheless, we seldom talk about the ways in which competition affects our lives here. Some vie eagerly for the title of section asshole. Even more of us re-read our paper for the fifth time, stressing over Oxford commas and topic sentences. Others run for a coveted board position for a club. As the semester comes to a close, people struggle to assert themselves with a renewed energy. This may be our last chance to serve as the head of a club at Yale or get the extra A that we need on our transcript. We feel the urge to complete everything perfectly as the inevitable end draws near. Meanwhile, the campus readies itself to shed its skin and to welcome an exceptionally large freshman class while preparing another class to enter the “real world.”
Should we take ourselves so seriously? It hardly seems worth having an aneurism over your linear algebra problem set or a Chaucer essay. We say this to ourselves — we tell ourselves that none of this matters — but we still end up screaming in an empty courtyard or pulling our hair. Why is that? Why do we continue to sideline our mental health and our relationships with other people for a line on a transcript or a plaque on a wall? We’re ripe eggs, like Humpty Dumpty, ready to fall over and crack from all of the stress.
The incoming class — the largest in Yale’s history — will experience this for themselves, eventually. During Bulldog Days next week they will ogle at Yalies with their awestruck faces, as they traverse Cross Campus and cautiously flip through the pages of ancient books in the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library. Eventually they will form their own bonds, join their own clubs and make their own distinctive mark on campus. Perhaps they will change the name of Benjamin Franklin College or the Schwarzman Center. Maybe this will be the class that finally gets rid of the student income contribution.
Meanwhile, current Yalies will see the smiling prefrosh passing through Phelps Gate. Some current freshmen — at the end of their own first year — may vividly remember this moment, recent in their young minds. Seniors awaiting graduation may watch these freshmen skipping across campus with a wistful look in their eyes. Others might smile happily, too eager to pass through those metal gates, ready to throw out their ID cards and embark on a journey into the “real world.”
The world is bigger than us. Some of the changes we make to Yale and the friendships we build here will last a lifetime. Other relationships and changes we won’t last quite so long, and that’s okay too. What’s key is that we don’t get too caught up in the moment.
Our desires are often just fleeting. We will always change our minds and recalibrate and start new projects. It seems like trivial advice, but we need to hear it over and over again until it sticks. We need to remember to get over ourselves.
Isis Davis-Marks is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .