At Yale, I’ve been exposed to a world I had previously only seen in “Gilmore Girls” — a faulty portrayal, sure, but I enjoyed being part of Rory Gilmore’s life for a while. When I first came to Yale, I remember feeling overwhelmed. There were so many gates, the buildings tall and looming, a world closed-in and beautiful. We were welcomed with elaborate meals in dining halls with more chandeliers than I’d ever seen before. The individuals whose work I’d admired from my room in Portland, Oregon, were now my professors and peers, peers whose accomplishments I’d learned about through our class’ Facebook page. And who was I? Entering the gates of Yale, I felt suddenly submerged in a world I had idolized from afar.
It is difficult not to fall prey to a language of idolatry here. We might know people not for who they are but what they have done. This way of thinking can be dangerous — it resides in the notion of “the best of the best,” what we have been told we are.
Yale is, in many ways, a strange place, a place that breeds world-renowned artists and researchers and Supreme Court leaders, and where no one ever seems to have enough time. It is a place where we produce magazines replete with important stories and work for social justice nonprofits, bettering the lives of others. It is a place where we often do not have time to sit down with our friends or learn the names of the individuals who work in our dining halls.
Before coming here, I’d never been in the same room as someone with great repute who I admired. The access to people and opportunities was previously unthinkable to me.
For the most part, meeting people I admire has been amazing — they are, in person, generous, brilliant and kind people.
Still, I think that the tendency to idolize people who are at the end of the day, human, can be detrimental to ourselves. When I applied to Yale, I remember writing about professor Harold Bloom in one of my essays, mentioning how much I admired him, how I could not believe I might have the chance to study with someone like him. Learning of his assault of a Yale student, and the ensuing silence, I felt bitter. When I read Junot Diaz’s piece in The New Yorker on his childhood assault and resulting trauma, I cried, feeling the visceral pain within his prose. Later, when I learned of the allegations against him, I felt crushed. The image I’d had of scholars and writers who I had deeply admired, even idolized, were crumbling.
Perhaps my mistake was in idolizing people in the first place. We sometimes assume that our accomplishments, our accolades, precede the people that we are, the people we are to become. Our accomplishments do not exempt us from treating one another with respect. In idealizing one another, whether our professors or each other, perhaps we place a lower standard of behavior on those around us. I’ve interacted with peers who might have outwardly accomplished so much, but with whom I felt not listened to and small. Despite what we produce, despite the fact that we have been told we are “the best of the best,” despite what we have and will achieve, we all, no matter who we are, must live in this world with kindness. No one is an idol or can surpass being held accountable for their actions.
When I get lost in the daily shuffle of this place, and feel overwhelmed, I take a walk. I like walking up Whitney Ave., where the small shops and stores and the long street resemble a painting. The other day, as I walked, I remembered the moment I got into Yale, how I opened the letter on my phone and the video wouldn’t load. I remembered getting into a car with a friend. Staring out the window, I wondered what it would be like to go to Yale, how amazing it would be. In the following months, I kept imagining my future and the beautiful architecture of this school, how I’d be able to walk around, touching it all.
It has been amazing. But I wish that, back then, I’d spent more time being myself as I was, before I got here, before it became easy to forget how happy it made me to just sit in my room and write a poem that I shared with no one else. How easy and simple those pleasures were. I hope we can all remember ourselves before we got here, before privilege and access to immense opportunities became normal. Meeting some of my “idols” has been incredible, but I have also realized the pitfalls of idolizing people and the ultimate fallibility of us all, no matter what we have accomplished. As I walked, I tried to remember myself in my room, writing a poem, content in just writing. I tried to feel again the kindness I felt toward myself then, and to turn it outward to the world.
Meghana Mysore is a junior in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .