Hey you. So glad you could join us at Yale this year. I know you’re busy unpacking and making good first impressions, but give me a second to make a prediction for you: Fast forward a couple months, to the first time you visit home. You’re going to get a lot of questions about whether Yale lived up to all of your expectations, and you’re probably going to say “Yes.” You’re going to be so busy talking about the residential college system and how cool your suitemates are that you’re going to forget something very important: Whether you’ve lived up to your expectations of yourself, and whether those were realistic to begin with.
There is something about the Yale experience that escalates people from “working toward dreams” to “grappling for the future, desperately and with sweaty abandon.” Ask any of your upperclassmen. I’m not much of a crier, but I’ll tell you about the times I did cry in my first year. I got so frustrated about a club that I called my mom sobbing, and instead of just talking to the club leaders, I wrote a long-winded email explaining why I had to quit. I cried at least four times over a class I took in a subject that I didn’t like because I thought it was the “natural progression” from my high school classes. I cried because I couldn’t fall asleep. I cried because of housing. I wanted to cry when I forgot to use my Durfee’s swipe for the first time (and every time after that).
I agonized over a lot of things in my first year — not because I made those mistakes, but because I couldn’t accept that I had made those mistakes. Rushing forward with lofty expectations made me resentful, jealous, petty, unwilling to learn and egoistic instead of confident. Alongside all the joys of being in college, I carried the burden of being unable to forgive myself.
Four semesters at Yale have been an extended lesson in learning how to do exactly that. So, allow me to reiterate: This is your first year at Yale, and it is not your last chance to do anything — not to join clubs, eat out, make friends, go to Woads, get good grades or catch the Metro North to New York. You’re not going to remember everyone’s names, you’re not always going to be the best communicator, and you’re probably not going to know what to do the first time your friend gets drunk (please call your FroCo). At times, you will feel lonely. Your school life will seem like a series of debacles for too-long stretches of time, and other times you’ll be so euphoric and grateful for Yale that you’ll want to post a reckless sappy meme on Facebook. One day in October, you will forget to check the weather and get soaked on the way to class. You will catch a cold when everyone else catches one, even if you drink four packets of Emergen-C. You will wonder how you’re supposed to study for midterms and worry about national political fiascos at the same time. You will hear statements from unfamiliar perspectives — and if you listen carefully, you will learn compassion and grace.
But just as you cannot predict the exact colors of your college experience, neither can I. You may do all, some or none of those things. Yale has a lot to offer and for many of us, maybe it’s too much. Learning to accept that not every opportunity should be pursued will be difficult. Nonetheless, allow me to make a hopeful prediction. On this beautiful campus and alongside incredible friends, you will make memories that you’ll want to relive. And while I advise you not to make the same mistakes I did, I encourage you to make some. Make as many as you can, and use them to learn to love yourself. If you can do that, you’ll be shocked at how different the world looks as you Bluebook next August.
So, some final words of advice: Lift your friends up, and choose friends who will lift you up in return. Don’t flake on others, even if it sometimes seems like Yale’s modus operandi.
And welcome home. We are glad you are here.
Catherine Yang is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .