It’s hard not to feel like Yale is a magical place as a first year. If our gothic castles, mazes of underground tunnels and secret passageways didn’t make you feel like you were at Hogwarts, then you probably didn’t explore campus enough. If the professors and famous speakers who frequent campus every week didn’t seem like wizards to you, then you probably didn’t understand just how talented they were.
But that magic fades as we get older. As we get accustomed to fancy buildings and visits from presidential candidates, it becomes easier to notice the problems that make campus feel a little less special. The same students who bemoan the student income contribution and the lack of adequate mental health counseling on campus today were once bright-eyed first-years, ones who sat in the front row when Howard Dean debated the Yale Political Union.
And yet somehow, despite all of Yale’s issues, we get some of that first-year magic back by the end of our senior year. We realize how strange it is that our campus controversies make the pages of the New York Times. We regain appreciation for the major politicians, economists and thinkers who take the time to give us feedback on our essays, most of which we threw together after a night at Woads. We dread leaving a place where late-night conversations about sports are just as common as arguments about geopolitics.
So which is it? Is Yale magical or isn’t it? I’ve found it difficult to reconcile all the memories I’ve cherished here with all the problems that plague our campus. But I think I’ve found a way to do so. Regardless of what our majors may have been, the books we read and the ideas we studied were exciting. And that’s where the magic is. What we should admire about our college experience is information and knowledge in itself — not the medium that delivered it to us. Yale brought us together and made it possible for us to have important conversations and arguments. For that, I am grateful.
But Yale itself is not magical – it’s the world that Yale taught us about that is. The theorems in our math textbooks and anecdotes from our history classes are what are magical. The odd intellectual niches of each member of the Class of 2018 are what are magical. Hell, even the drunken conversations we’ve all had with one another at 2 a.m. are magical in their own way. Yale is just a collection of institutions, flawed as they may be, that gave us a glimpse of those magical moments.
Our generation faces a laundry list of problems that we’ve all heard about by now: rising income inequality, the effects of climate change, gun violence and so many more. But whatever the problem du jour may be tomorrow, let’s not forget that we still have stories to hear, laughter to share and communities to enjoy. The joy we find in these aspects of our lives are why we care about solving any of these problems to begin with. We (hopefully) studied topics that brought us happiness and piqued our interest precisely because we are excited about the wonders of the world that we live in.
Commencement columns and speeches almost always follow the same formula: They begin with an anecdote illustrating how grateful we ought to be for the privilege of attending Yale and go on to explain that this privilege confers upon us a moral obligation to change the world for the better. That’s all true, but I think we have a far less didactic reason to help. The world is a magical place. Shouldn’t we keep it that way?