At 10:30 a.m. on a sweltering Wednesday back in 2015, I attended my very first class as a Yale undergraduate. Back then, there was no Benjamin Franklin or Pauli Murray College to admire on the walk up Science Hill, no construction site behind Kline Biology Tower, and no preformed notion of what to expect from a chemistry lecture or even the classmates around me. Frankly, first-year Catherine was a walking disaster: I was sweaty. I was lost. I still listened to Fall Out Boy. I had no idea how to fit lunch into my class schedule. I was constantly dehydrated because I couldn’t find any water fountains. And, for multiple weeks, I thought that Vanderbilt Hall was one of the 12 residential colleges. (To be fair, I also didn’t realize that it was on Old Campus.)
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I got the hang of life at Yale — but I guess that the fun thing about change is that you don’t notice it until after it’s happened. Somewhere in those confusing first months of Yale, I got used to Durfee’s lunches and planning dinners with newfound friends. I eventually visited every residential college dining hall. I learned to sleep through police and fire sirens. I took midterms and struggled with problem sets. I played ice breaker games and got played by CT Limo (which is a travesty of a transportation company that will inevitably shatter your naive first-year hopes and dreams of getting back to campus in time for dinner. But I digress.)
Some of the changes were less tangible. I learned that my talents were small and insignificant, and that whatever skills I had once been proud of in high school were barely passable amongst my Yale peers. I marveled at the invincible youth of my classmates, a strength that inspired confident debates in seminars (and also a complete disregard for the risks of liver disease at parties). I, unfortunately, became accustomed to cashing in my mental and physical health for tokens of academic and extracurricular achievement. I also learned that most of my classmates, as smooth-tongued and socially adjusted as they all seem, are commitment-phobes who are intent on indoctrinating all of their peers into the same awkward culture of avoiding sustained romance. (Seriously, y’all. Graduation is soon, but so is the end of grad school or that New York internship or whatever it is that you’re doing. Shoot your shot now, or forever hold your peace.)
The strangest thing to learn — not because I hadn’t entertained the possibility of it, but because I hadn’t expected to see it so early on — was that Yale is full of truly ignorant people, myself included. The only thing that can redeem us, in all of our overwhelming privilege and ivory tower pretentiousness, is having the willingness to learn and listen. Political literacy isn’t something that you can acquire all at once, and — contrary to popular Yale belief — it’s not a petty badge that you earn by speaking well in humanities seminars. After 3.5 years of wandering this campus and engaging in its activism, I understand more than ever that I’ve just barely scratched the surface. And as befuddling as that is, I embrace it.
Finally, if you’re wondering which Yale lesson was hardest to learn, it was this: The average Yalie is flakier than an artisanal croissant. People will ghost you in ways that hurt you just as much as their presences brighten your day. They will ignore texts, emails, deadlines and your feelings. And you’ll do it, too, because this campus thrives on overcommitment and a special, reluctant kind of conformity. After all, it is the uniqueness of each student that culminates in a mass form of selfishness; amidst each of our own ambitious pursuits, none of us have quite enough time or energy to dedicate to our friends and peers. This trend is why, on some nights, you will go to sleep feeling like no one cares about you. The feeling can hit on a random Wednesday morning, or even on the night of your birthday. It’s an unfortunate fluctuation in the flawed algorithm of Yale life — an algorithm that I wish I could change with these words, but cannot. So instead we move on; we forgive and we hope that out there, in the “real world,” people will do the same for us.
My final class as a Yale undergraduate took place yesterday — on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 1:30 p.m. Commons is no more. The Beinecke is under construction (yet again). There are two new residential colleges (and Vanderbilt isn’t one of them). I am finally old and withered enough to say things like, “Wow, remember the fried rice at Commons?” and “Can you believe Sasha Pup moved to Oregon?” and “I wish Durfee’s still sold the old kind of chicken tenders.” But this is it — the last of the Yale lessons. My last staff column, my final dining hall swipe and my conclusive Trumbull move-out.
Thanks for the ride. Thanks for the reads. And please, stop being a flake.
Catherine Yang is a senior in Trumbull College. Her column runs on the first Thursday of every month. This is her last staff column for the News Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .