“How are you liking Yale so far?”
I peer through the perspectives of my fellow first years and find myself transfixed by a kaleidoscope of happiness: sanguine sentiments melt into stories of exuberance and excitement. A vivid anecdote about that incipient friendship. An animated account of the club that promises a perfect fit. The glorious misadventure during that night out partying, disclosed in reverent whispers. Tales of the First Woads. Fragments of fantastical Camp Yale chronicles fused into each other — a crystalline mosaic of life, excitement and nascent independence emerges in the space of the question.
These epic stories surely aren’t fictive nor — in large part — embellished, despite how outlandish some of them sound. Yes, the people here are just that wonderfully weird and intelligent. Yes, the Franklin brunch is just that good. Yes, Camp Yale was just that lit.
I too have lived these stories and can validate their truth. But they’re incomplete.
Despite the marvelously distinct paths we all forged in order to reach this neo-gothic castle we’re learning to call home, we can point a collective finger to the herculean effort it took for us to get here. But the pressure to scale the platform of excellence in order to launch ourselves into these coveted classrooms didn’t end when we collected our high school diplomas. Along with our abundance of luggage and excitement, our demanding expectations for ourselves also catapulted into this new chapter of our lives — this time, expectations to not only perform excellently, but to live excellently. To experience the glamour and grandiosity of Yale in all its glory, and to never be caught under the ignominious shadow of a frown. We’ve made it to Yale! How could we be anything but ecstatic?
In just a couple weeks, it seems like we first years have gotten the recipe down to a science. We exchange smiles as readily as fun facts. A pristinely cheerful exterior — we’ve come to realize — is a prerequisite for the package of perfunctory friendship, sealed as we enthusiastically recite our majors and hometowns.
But despite the insidious demands of our happy-centric society, exacerbated by the pressure to enjoy the fruits of our labor, we all must rest our cheek muscles once in a while and allow ourselves to simply feel.
I hope you also cried the first time you FaceTimed your little brother at home and, looking at his already-maturing features, recognized that you’d be limited to experiencing this era of his life through the barrier of a screen and secondhand stories. It’s the gravitational tug of longing for those we left behind that anchors us to our clan and to those who have helped us get to where we are.
I hope you also felt an electric jolt of fear during your first day in section, when the unassuming girl in the corner raised her hand and opened her sentence with a word that you’d only expect to hear in the later rounds of a national spelling bee. It’s that visceral medley of awe and intimidation engendered by those with whom we gather around the table that reinforces the uniqueness of this campus, teeming with every iteration of genius found in classroom and in friend.
I hope you also suffered the early onset of “the Freshman plague,” as your voice abandoned you in protest of painfully off-pitch belting at Yale Up and Woads. It’s in the moments of intense coughing fits that send a seismic rattle through the L-Dub bunk bed when you’re forced to recognize your personal limitations and begin to learn how to better take care of yourself.
I hope you also shopped 13 classes and soon realized that decision, simply, was stupid. It’s in that agony when you make the crucial promise to never do that again.
I hope you also got soaked to the bone in that random rain storm as you sprinted back to close the window of your suite, praying that your laptop on the sill didn’t get destroyed, making a mental note that a rain jacket might be a good investment and cursing yourself for having ever thought it wise to leave California. It’s in the moments of complete immersion, into that first bottomless paper or rain bath, when you undergo the baptism into the innervating intensity of these next four years.
I hope you felt the yearning of a magnet unpaired, the first time you were reminded of an inside joke you shared with a friend at home and quickly stifled your own solitary laughter. It’s in that subdued smile that you remember the punchlines that extend to old friendships, in the fertile silence where new laughter blooms.
Yes, these past few weeks have been some of the best weeks of my life. But “best” is a superlative I measure on a scale of emotion, not one that I quantify in units of performative happiness. I peer into the kaleidoscope of Yale and, through the nuanced prism that fuses the full range of feelings, begin to see an emerging picture of home.
So, how are you liking Yale so far?
Mina Caraccio is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .