In the beginning, I stood silently, taking in the magic. The angelic voices of the glee club soared across Woolsey Hall to welcome the class of 2019 with our very first rendition of “Bright College Years.” I was stunned: This is Yale. I’m at Yale. I’m a Yalie.
Eventually, I found my voice and glanced nervously at a new suitemate to my left, and we sang together proudly: “How bright will seem, through mem’ry’s haze / Those happy, golden, bygone days!”
Only recently did I realize how strange our alma mater is: Why does Yale make us begin by saying goodbye?
“Hold on!” I should’ve shouted four years ago. “We just got here!” The administration must have known, however, that they were safe from any protest (for now, at least). Our eager eyes and ears had yet to be trained in Yale’s tradition of close reading just about anything.
At first blush, “Bright College Years” is a call to be happy. “The shortest, gladdest years of life” are before every one of us — it would be a waste not to enjoy them. Yalies will always stand apart from their peers for keeping college witty and passionate and light. Yale’s motto is a powerful summation of what makes us unique: We add lux to Harvard’s lonely veritas.
Lux adds revelation to reason, curiosity to certainty, humour to arrogance. But it takes work to keep our bright college years from growing dim.
I worry, sometimes, that there is a scarcity of light on our campus. And no, not because of late April showers (but please bring May flowers for commencement, if you can). I fear that the campus has become less witty and more dogmatic. We write fewer articles that buck the status quo and our Facebook statuses of solidarity are usually copied and pasted.
There is a severe lack of individual thought on campus — especially among many milquetoast moderates — and a preponderance of student demands for solutions to petty issues. At the same time, we kowtow to careerism and we’ve polished our iconic nerdiness away.
Well, that’s what you might expect me to say. But I’d be lying if I left it there.
I can’t go a day on this campus without meeting a smiling face. I have trouble eating a meal without pleasant company or a passionate conversation. I’m in awe every day of my friends — for their accomplishments and for their yearning to reflect when they fail. And I respect this community deeply for standing together when tragedy strikes.
I’d also be lying if I didn’t say how proud I am to see the Ezra Stiles buttery full every Wednesday for our wonderfully geeky new tradition of board game night. I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit how special it is to have eaten with my suitemates at family dinner every Sunday for four years. Or how lucky I am to have serendipitously met the love of my life in the college courtyard.
So lux still rules, and should always rule, this campus. Yale’s lightness of spirit, wonder and joy makes it unique. Of course, however, there is a necessary balance between light and truth. With many campus issues, we dangerously begin with the premise that we’re right. We throw ourselves into issues en masse without recognizing their greater complexity (or hidden simplicity). Especially as of late, we’ve taken ourselves and our world far too seriously.
And while we appear to have a handle on this place, it sometimes feels like too many of us only scratch the surface of Yale. Demand less; do more. Request treasures at the Beinecke. Dwell at art museums. Attend 35mm film screenings. Browse books. Go to a few Yale sports games. Take more humanities classes. Write long papers. Get a campus job. Study abroad (multiple times). Visit lectures outside of school. Drink tea with famous people. Move beyond the surface with your friends. Have a real relationship. Go Greyhound on your fall break. Listen carefully, to strangers, professors and students alike. Question your beliefs and challenge your peers to do the same. Write columns for the Yale Daily News. Be grateful, always.
Only now do I understand the importance of beginning with the end. To begin with nostalgia is to recognize a place as sacred. It is to inscribe gratitude for a space that none of us deserve. It is to make us ask thoughtfully and challenge fiercely.
But it’s also to let a poor kid from Oklahoma know that he can do absolutely anything he sets his mind to at this beautiful university. And for that, I say without hesitation: Thank you, Yale. Let there be lux and let us sing: Oh, let us strive that ever we / May let these words our watch-cry be / Where’er upon life’s sea we sail: “For God, for Country and for Yale!”
Leland Stange is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. This is his last staff column for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .