Earlier this year, when a scene from Yale’s new promotional video “That’s Why I Toured Yale” was being filmed at my residential college, I received the unexpected opportunity to realize a long-cherished dream of mine. No, not featuring in a potentially viral video — it was meeting Sam Tsui ’11, one of the creators of the original video and the indisputable idol of my teenage years. As a high school senior applying to colleges four years ago, I answered the question about the aspect of Yale that most influenced my decision to apply with a gushing profession of my admiration for Tsui. Tsui, a half-Chinese musical artist and YouTube performer who majored in Ancient Greek, seemed to embody my own background and various aspirations — and, moreover, what could come of pursuing them at Yale.
Predictably, when I met Tsui this fall, I was somewhat overwhelmed. I discovered that one of my favorite professors had actually advised his thesis; he reminisced over long hours studying in the Classics Library, now an all-too-familiar experience for me. Friends can attest that I wept uncontrollably after this conversation, partly from a realization that I had not fully grasped in years: I was here, in the place that had appeared like a glittering paradise in the background of the videos of Tsui and his friends, that I had desired so fervently to be a part of.
Tonight, “That’s Why I Toured Yale” officially premieres. Matching the wild popularity enjoyed by its predecessor will be a difficult feat, but it promises to be just as charming and wholesome in showcasing the University’s most attractive features. Yet my sense of anticipation for its release has been tempered by a fear that this “update” will, in revisiting Yale’s campus and culture, merely throw into sharp relief how drastically they have changed since the first video.
The Yale in which I now find myself feels quite distant from the one I first entered as a freshman. The image of the bright-eyed freshman proudly hoisting a paper Bluebook in her arms has been replaced with that of the first-year scrolling through digital schedules on his laptop. Science Hill now draws non-STEM majors with the promise of grilled wraps and utterly baffling iconographic programs in the two new residential colleges. Whatever existed in Sterling Memorial Library before the Center for Teaching and Learning and its eerie elevator music were instituted has been forgotten and lost to the annals of history. The traditional Parade of Comestibles will commence this weekend for the first time someplace other than what was formerly known as “Commons.”
More seriously — and regretfully — the way in which students relate to and engage with one another has undergone a definite sea change. My sense of optimism and general confidence in the intentions of my peers have been shaken significantly since my first year at Yale, a sentiment I understand is shared by many others on campus. Events both within and without have left us more cynical, more embittered, more susceptible to feeling misunderstood.
Perhaps, I worried, the reasons for which I originally chose Yale no longer existed.
But meeting Tsui briefly and recalling everything I’d once envisioned about Yale compelled me to reflect on the constants — its perennial treasures, places and moments timeless and now familiar. My father still insists on walking into Sterling Memorial Library whenever he visits so he can stand, awestruck, in the nave, gazing up at the towering mural of Mother Yale. Watching him, I am silently overcome by gratitude. One of my college essays, a piece rife with teenage sentiment in which I waxed rhapsodic about Catullus, might have predicted my current academic interests in lyric poetry. Several friendships I made in my first year have endured and strengthened since, teaching me in ways I never could have foreseen. My deep admiration for my teachers and the love I have developed for the distinct way my discipline is done here have caused me to realize that I could only have chosen Yale, after all.
Applying to Yale, I had been thrilled by the idea of possibility, by the myriad opportunities Yale could offer. It seems, however, as I near the end of my undergraduate career, that my time at Yale ultimately has brought me closer to myself. No matter how many changes Yale inevitably will undergo in future years, I hope that it will continue to do the same for future generations of students, who will find pride in choosing it again and again.
Sherry Lee is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at email@example.com .