Summer light beats down as you step through wrought-iron gates, illuminating gothic facades that will one day cease to amaze. For now, you are overwhelmed, bewildered. This is Yale, after all, and you are now a part of it. It is not just the architecture that inspires awe — it is your peers too, each seemingly more accomplished and intriguing than the last. That, and the dazzling array of courses, performances and extracurriculars. You feel paralyzed by choice.
Do not fret. Do not overoptimize. Things will fall into place. Whether you come in confident or nervous, certain or unsure if this company of scholars is one where you belong, you will find classes you enjoy, activities with meaning, causes worth fighting for and people who love you and whom you love. The things that really matter, in other words. But it will take time.
By now the leaves are turning brown. Midterms are in full swing and you are beginning to realize that college is not as rosy as you imagined. The courses in your major have turned out less than inspiring, a cappella has rejected you and your sections have a few assholes too many. But still, you are here, and you have not done nothing. You just made the coolest new friend in your dance group, came out to your suite without it being too weird and, who knows, maybe the cute person in math class even asked you out.
Which is to say, the future is bright, and the present has its joys. Why dwell on frustrations, or what you have failed to get? Nourish this spirit, for it will aid you in darker days ahead.
You wake up to bells, and courtyards fresh with snow. It is winter, and you think you are getting the hang of things. Refreshed from Thanksgiving, you tackle papers with renewed determination, perform to sold-out crowds in the last week of classes, party hard with your friends at Toad’s. When finals arrive, you get through in one piece, and, while you are glad to see family when winter break comes, soon you cannot wait to be back on campus with friends. The next term begins, and you are no longer scared.
Along the way though, you may slip and fall on the ice. Friends will help you up, but then you may see that they are falling too. The daylight hours are short, and depression not hard to come by. Be prepared. Care for yourself when you need to, for others whenever you can. Meditate. See a therapist. Cry out all the feels. Do not blame yourself for being sad. Life is a struggle, and college no exception. We can only overcome it if we first accept that truth.
Spring takes its time to arrive. Trudging through slush and snowmelt in the middle of March, you wonder again if Yale is the right place for you. The work feels harder than ever before, your peers are sometimes flakier than you’d like and you see with increasing clarity the flaws of the institution around you. Maybe this is just how things are? But as the days grow longer, your mood lifts again. Before you know it, you’ll be turning it up at Spring Fling, hurtling through another round of finals and hugging your suitemates goodbye.
Listen to these movements of the heart, for each of them is telling you something. After a year of college, you will have grown and matured, but there will still be changes to come. Old misgivings may blossom anew. Options never considered will present themselves. You will find yourself abandoning pre-med for theater, studying abroad, taking a semester off. Falling in love or out of it. Losing faith or finding it. All the world is subject to change — allow it to do so, and, even in that harshness, you will find delight.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The days to come will pass in similar fashion, and in four short years they will be gone. Graduating into the ranks of America’s elite, you may discover that even that is not enough. Lest that happen, remember to figure out why you are here. Yale is a place of immense privilege — do not squander it all upon your fickle self. Love widely, and receive it in turn. It is one of the few joys that lasts. Meet both sorrow and happiness in the eye. Don’t forget to cry. And don’t forget to laugh.
Xuan is a senior in Davenport College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this column was originally published in the News’ 2017 special issue for incoming first year.