When I look out of my window I see the dry, golden grass of the South African winter, Sotho children running down the road and a group of conservationists discussing how to protect endemic flora and fauna. While a far cry from the life I am about to embark on in New Haven, this is the reality that has shaped who I am. It is the environment that has influenced my values and aspirations, and it has created the perspective that I will contribute to Yale’s diverse intellectual landscape.
We each have a window from which we have inspected the world, and through which we have gleaned the ideas and encounters that have impacted who we are. As a first year, I was largely drawn to Yale by the diversity of thought and experience on its campus. Living in close community with students from different backgrounds and corners of the globe provides an opportunity to see the world through other people’s windows, and by doing so to not only broaden the way we think but also to grow and develop as individuals who are part of a complex, variegated global community.
As the political and social discourse of so many countries becomes increasingly polarized and fractured, the confluence of ideas and world views in institutions such as Yale is increasingly significant. There is profound value in creating an environment where disparate opinions are brought together under the banner of a residential college, and members of differing cultures or political backgrounds share suites. Perhaps the power of this close proximity lies in the conversation it can facilitate — the late-night dorm discussions where the geographic and social barriers are lifted and we have the rare opportunity to truly engage with someone else’s world view, to learn from others and to share from our own unique experiences.
In my final year of high school, my life skills teacher showed my class Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TED Talk on “The Danger of a Single Story.” In her talk, Adichie outlines both the hazard of reducing the intricate narrative of another ethnicity or nationality to a ‘single story,’ and the redeeming value of opening ourselves up to other perspectives, as “Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” We are all subject to our own limited experience of the world, and the chance to expand that experience at Yale comes in many forms. We will find ourselves being influenced by the books we read, the lecturers we listen to and the peers we form relationships with. I hope that during our time at Yale we will listen to new and different stories and be able to tell our own in turn.
With the first four years of university coming into view, we are beginning to ask ourselves critical questions about what we want to derive from our university experience. Of course, we hope for incredible academic experience that will inspire and equip us. Perhaps we aim to expand our intellectual horizons, develop our artistic expression or make a difference through community service. Maybe we want a shot at a capella stardom. But the golden thread through all the myriad degrees and specialties we will dive into is the idea that we will become people who can positively influence the spheres we will find ourselves in.
I think most Yalies feel the pressure of privilege — this enormous gift of a liberal arts education and the head start that the Yale stamp will give us in life. The tension of this privilege lies in how on Earth to make the most of it all. And while I’m sure that Yale is immensely proud of the incredible success many of its alumni achieve, the phrase that stands out to me from Yale’s mission statement is “committed to improving the world.” To improve any aspect of the world we must continually strive to understand it, to grapple with its iniquities and celebrate its vibrancy, to look through all its windows and listen to all its stories. We each bring our own world to Yale, and in turn Yale and its dynamic student body present us with the opportunity to become world changers.
Rachel Calcott is a first year in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .