You know that feeling? The one you get when you really think about your place in the universe or when you try to comprehend the vast realm of opportunity within a 10-day shopping period and 4,000 courses? Your brain shorts out, like there’s a glitch in the system, and you’re stuck pushing against a wall in your existence that you didn’t even know was there. Careful, now. Don’t push too hard, or the tech people will come shut you down. That’s right — a hard reset. Don’t do it. Just keep reading.
It’s not fatigue or a lack of holistic intelligence blocking you off — it’s the simulation. And now, in this uncharacteristically logical and highly scientific column, I will defend my argument that Yale is, truly and wholly, a simulation. Of what? I’ll address that later.
A simulation, according to Wikipedia (only the most secure and accredited of sources), is an imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system. Simulations can train us to fly planes, perform surgeries and test the structural limits of automobiles-in-progress. And if the Yale memes group is anything to go by, they can even help us become special snowflakes with a penchant for health care consulting and a deep fear of QR credits.
However, after six semesters of careful analysis, I still find it difficult to identify exactly what it is that Yale is simulating. Certainly the financial districts and nonprofits that the Yale Sims will eventually populate (you know, out there in the “real world”) will not be “microcosms of the greater community.” Certainly there won’t be 14 dining halls perfectly dispersed throughout our future 12-by-12-block living spaces, and the tail end of August will not include free pizza or a Bulldog Bash thrown by our dearest Marvin Chun. There will be no cheering masses of coworkers as we pull up to our post-graduation apartments for the first time. And there will be no fateful Wednesday night text to beckon us to the local, students-only club event. Instead, there will be bills to pay and overtime to work, perhaps reminiscent of those long hours in Sterling (but certainly not the same — no, not at all).
In short, if Yale is simulating real life, it’s not preparing us particularly well. The typical Yale student is programmed to be 4 percent caffeine, 8 percent Tinder swipes, 12 percent nihilism, 26 percent political conscientiousness and 50 percent insecurity — with a heavy dash of imposter syndrome. They push themselves, stacking responsibility on top of responsibility, until procrastination becomes a survival technique. They dive into Bass with four essays and three Awake chocolate bars and a melatonin for later. They test the minimum limits of shower frequency. They order inordinate amounts of takeout when they’re homesick. They don’t know how to say “no.” They overextend for the sake of their extracurriculars and friends, pressured by past, present and future. They suffer through MATH 120 for no good reason. And they definitely don’t advertise their failures — the real ones — because they’re programmed to fear them more than anything.
Yes, if there is any major bug in this bubbly and colorful fall haven of a simulation, it’s the fact that we’re all programmed to believe that productivity is the holy grail of success. Didn’t make 20K working in Fi-Di over the summer? Well, at least you volunteered at an exclusive teaching nonprofit for three months, right? Oh, you didn’t get three fellowships to fund your thesis work in Korea? Well, at least you hiked the Andes and published in Nature last weekend (first author!). Sure, it’s great when life imitates art and when life includes lots of wholesome memes — but when life imitates memes, we’re all doomed.
But surely, even beyond the Yale mission statement, the simulation must have a purpose. I leave that question for you to answer. But I do have one theory: Occasionally, amidst the mess and mundanity and insecurity of campus life is a stunning, gorgeous moment of internal peace. You’re under the sun on Cross Campus, surrounded by the friends who make you feel most like yourself, and there’s not a single assignment left in your GCal (plus, the roast chicken was moist and flavorful at dinner).
“The simulation is breaking down!” You cry to your friends in a fit of hesitant joy. “My taste buds and I can’t be this happy!”
But you realize then: You can. For a minute or two, you’ll drink in the beauty of Yale, feeling blessed to be a part of the institution. And 40 years from now, still riding the high of those fleeting moments (and not pushing against that wall too hard), you’ll donate $400 million to rename the Schwarzman Center and install working air conditioning units in every dorm room — thus fueling the simulation for the starry-eyed generations to come.
Catherine Yang is a senior in Trumbull College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at email@example.com .
Editor’s note, Sep. 6: Due to an editing error, the headline of this op-ed was incorrectly written. It has been updated to reflect the print version.