Marianne Ayala

In the weeks before school started, I thought a lot about what “going away to college” actually means. I said goodbye to some of my friends before they boarded planes to California, to St. Louis, to Washington, DC. I said goodbye to some of my friends who would only be a Metro North ticket away. I said “see you later” to a number of friends I’m lucky enough to spend four more years with. In my experience, “going away to college” feels in some way like returning home. I spent my high school years about twenty minutes away from the Yale campus at Hopkins School, a private day school that like many others of its kind, rests on top of a green hill and is comprised of a series of lovely brick buildings. I owe my life’s education to this city.

One of my first nights at Yale, at approximately 1:36 in the morning, I was roaming around with a new friend, and like many other first-years, we were searching for a party we had heard about somewhere. I was learning about where she was from, what her friends from home were like, what made her excited about studying Swahili. It began to rain heavily and we laughed about our refusal to go back home. At an intersection, we ran into a guy with an American flag draped across his shoulders. We exchanged some small facts about ourselves and when I told him I had grown up in Connecticut, he grimaced and said “Connecticut is SO boring!” I smiled and laughed and we all added each other on Snapchat but something felt unsettled in me as we returned back to Old Campus and stayed up even later talking. If only I had had the words then to explain exactly what this city means to me, and exactly how in the first weeks these streets have felt at once lonely and full, now transformed, reinvented, renewed and opened.

After saying goodbye to my friends for the first time, I was worried that I would feel their ghosts along the street corners or hanging about in our familiar places. I’ve driven in circles around York Street and College Street and Chapel Street with my best friend eating ice cream, talking about our families and enjoying the freedom of her “batmobile.” I’ve hiked up East Rock in February with groups of friends, wearing dresses to celebrate the first warm evenings. I remember a first date to the YUAG that led to nothing and an awkward first date spent in silence at Claire’s that later amounted to my first real love. On April 28th I walked in circles around the cherry blossom festival in Wooster square and listened to the sounds of the food and craft stands from inside the local church. Last New Year’s Eve I played basketball in the Walmart of Hamden, then watched the ball drop in the basement of the most strikingly blue house on Livingston Street. Before coming to campus, I could not possibly predict how memories would intermingle with new adventures, how I would feel as the gates of new opportunities opened, how space can constantly reinvent itself when shared with new people.

A few nights ago, my friend’s high school friends from London visited him at Yale before returning to the U.K. Our entryway spent the night in the hallway, listening to music and talking. After a few hours I invited one of his friends outside to give him a tour of the campus and the city. We walked in circles and talked for hours about our classes and our families and ended the tour swinging in the JE courtyard. In relaying some of the magic of this city, of this campus, of the endless courtyards to this stranger, it began to feel new and foreign and unexplored to me as well. This place, which I consider home, reinvents itself each day.

I think there are two categories of wanting: striving and longing. Yale is a dream that we all strived for, it is an opportunity opened to us in exchange for hard work and patience and a vision for a community. I think the things we long for arrive slowly and unfold unpredictably; they open to us like blessings. I never thought that in high school, I would happen upon relationships that have left me, after four years, in a truly different shape. I couldn’t quite predict exactly how I would feel at the opening ceremonies in Woolsey Hall, President Salovey welcoming us, the music rushing across the ceiling, the energy of a thousand other hopeful bodies reverberating in the air. I couldn’t quite predict how the new faces I’ve encountered and the new stories I’ve heard have already begun to reinvent me, how my own stories and jokes have begun to sound new in my own mouth. So many gates have been opened to us, revealing so many concentric squares to explore: the vaulted ceilings of the libraries and the couches in the common rooms and the courtyards at night.

Annie Nieldsannie.nields@yale.edu