This is my last staff column for the Yale Daily News. I look back at that sentence, and cannot believe that I even typed it: “This is my last staff column for the Yale Daily News.” It’s a bittersweet feeling — slightly cathartic, slightly satisfying, slightly stinging.
My bright college years are coming to a close. In a few weeks, there will be no more late night talks or pending Snackpass orders or trips to East Rock. I won’t be able to come home from the art studio at 3 AM after painting for six hours. There will be no more impromptu texts asking my friend for a quick smoke break; there will be no wisps of tobacco to keep us company in the comfortable silence. I replay those wholesome memories in my head multiple times a day.
Right about now, it’s easy to have regrets. You regret the things you didn’t do: I have to reckon with the fact that I will never be able to take Daily Themes or that one seminar on Wittgenstein. I won’t be able to write for The New Journal or join an improv group before I graduate. But you also remember the personal regrets — the things that you should have said, the things that you really shouldn’t have, the cute boy in your Directed Studies section that you should have asked out. We romanticize all of the missed opportunities. Nostalgia tugs at our heartstrings as we attempt to check off every item on our Yale bucket list.
But as I said before, this column is bittersweet.
Yale was pleasurable, but it was also painful. I am the first person in my family to graduate from an Ivy League institution. A single mother raised me; my father doesn’t even have a college education. The few women who attended college in my family could not have attended Yale if they had wanted to. But somehow, in a few weeks, I will have a Yale degree.
Coming to Yale was difficult, to put it lightly. How was a regular-shmegular girl from the Bronx supposed to know that there is an unwritten dress code for the Lizzie? How was she supposed to know that people wouldn’t understand when she casually uses the word “dub” in conversation? Every sweet memory of hiking up East Rock is punctuated by another memory where I wore sweatpants to an event that called for “business casual attire”. Every pleasant memory of placing a Snackpass order senior year is soured by memories of first year, when I didn’t have much money to buy coffee or to go out to eat.
I have more money for coffee now, because I won scholarships and fellowships and awards. I learned how to play the Yale game. I smiled and shook hands. I traded in my Doc Martens for Oxfords and bought a satchel my sophomore year. These little changes made me palatable — I got into exclusive spaces and important people respected me. But all that came with a price: I created horcruxes, sacrificed little bits of myself until I didn’t recognize who I was anymore when I looked in the mirror. I let professors say racist and sexist things to me, because I felt like I needed to win their favor. Every time I joined a new club, I’d wait a little longer before I called home. How was I supposed to explain the intricacies of copy editing to my grandfather when he was struggling to pay the rent? I went to dinner at society instead of staying with my friend when she was in the hospital. I kept silent when I saw people doing horrible things, posed for pictures with questionable politicians and bit my tongue when men groped me. I cried a lot. I pulled my hair out. I stopped reading and started gossiping. I had to be better — to feel more worthy — than my peers.
But now I’m done.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Yale was a formative experience, even though I have my misgivings. I learned a lot of things about myself and other people. And I felt free to pursue my passions for the first time. I always tell myself that I can’t do things because I’m black or a woman or not elite. But I finally let go. I wrote constantly and painted pictures, because I finally gave myself permission to do so. I did academic research, and wrote essays about Homer even though I struggled with literary analysis. I met so many extraordinary people, and I have an amazing team of mentors behind me. These good memories made it — all of it — worth it, even if I still feel a bit empty inside.
Graduation isn’t the end of the road; it’s only the beginning. I’m ready for the next move.
Isis Davis-Marks is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. This is her last staff column for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .