What people don’t warn you about senior year is the number of times you will be unexpectedly asked to reveal your biggest hopes and regrets over casual dining hall dinners — especially with the end of the semester just around the corner and commencement under two months away.
“What’s on your Yale Bucket list? What do you wish you had done more during your time here?”
As the sky opens up and colorful signs of spring start to appear, I find myself pondering them as I stroll along the still-dreary New Haven streets.
“If you could go back and give your first-year self some advice, what would you say?”
Well, what would you say?
As I believe my fellow 2018ers would agree, that’s quite a loaded question. Heck, even you first years probably have accumulated enough of the Yale Experience to realize that there isn’t a simple way to encapsulate the wisdom that the act of learning how to thrive, or merely survive, in this place has bestowed upon all of us.
But if my washed-up senior self were to give it a try, my answer would be this:
I wish I had been softer — And I wish you would be too.
No, not the artfully curated, artificially soulful Softboy™ kind of soft. I’m talking about the more literal kind: soft as in supple, malleable and — dare I say it — vulnerable?
Ours seems to be a community that prides itself on our ability to be just about the opposite of soft. Strong-willed. Sculptured bodies. Gritty determination. Tough enough to pull an all-nighter for that midterm paper. And — most of the time — there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re all fighters over here.
But still, when I think back to my time at Yale, this peculiar place where all of us shuffle around trying to bridge the elusive gaps between the people we are and the people we hope to be, the moments that sparkled in my four years’ worth of memory are the ones that are full to the brim with softness.
It’s those late December nights where the entire suite is sprawled out on the common room floor commiserating on the miserable winter and the looming finals. The post-screw migrations where you carried your friends back to their rooms — or was it the other way around? — while making sure no one has lost anything more than a bit of mental clarity and personal dignity. It’s those weekend brunches when you overshared your questionable decisions from the previous night while pleading your roommate for the same wise words she gave you last week. The times you “impulsively” sent that long paragraph of text to a certain someone at 1 a.m. while pretending you didn’t spend the entire day crafting it in your Notes app and have it proofread by a friend or two. It’s those times you went for a walk for some fresh air after giving your mom a call and allowing yourself to cry for the first time in months.
You know what I’m talking about. Those moments when you let your guard down, voluntarily or not, and feel like you are navigating the world heart-first.
Aren’t they some of the most special moments in your Yale too?
Most of us know what these moments are and why they are special. But somehow, between our classes and extracurricular commitments and bi-monthly quarter-life crises, we don’t allow ourselves to soften enough to create and experience them as much as we could.
Beyond just the way we feel, the notion of softness can also be applied to the way we think and our academic and professional pursuits. Being soft means coming into a debate — whether it be the one on Overhead at Yale or during section for your humanities credits — with an intellectual stance that’s firm but not inflexible. It means embracing the reality that in a campus full of brilliant, hard-working ex-valedictorians, sometimes your most-calculated and dedicated efforts might still fall short of the coveted A — or A-, depending on where you fall on the Rhodes Scholar-to-Woads Scholar scale.
Let’s break down the notion that being soft and being strong — emotionally, socially or intellectually — are mutually exclusive. Let’s stop pretending that it’s unnatural to not be on-top-of-it all the time, or that ghosting someone and unsuccessfully avoiding them for the rest of the year requires less effort than having one respectful conversation with a bit of closure. Let’s start acknowledging the fact that we are all more than the hardened-shelled, animated manifestations of our Tinder and LinkedIn profiles, and that we all could afford to be a little more honest and raw.
With the unfolding lightness of this spring season, let’s allow ourselves to bend so that we don’t break.
Abby Srivicharnkul is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .