The pain comes in waves. I hear “Come On Eileen” and remember all the times we drunkenly sang along, and how we will never do it again. Or I see a photo of Sterling on social media and remember the many late nights and tears. Yet I miss those study sessions, knowing that I will never take the “I-wrote-my-thesis” photo in front of that cathedral we call a library. Photoshop will have to do. Today, I hear a professor’s prerecorded voice and wonder why I’m not in LC 102, sitting at those decrepit wooden desks under beautiful murals I only just noticed.
It is very easy for me to wallow in self-pity, to remember everything I have lost, to realize how many things I will never get to do. I’ve cried and complained and commiserated and asked God, “Why?” Why the Class of 2020? As if our class wasn’t already hurled challenges from the start. (Yes, Donald Trump was elected the fall of my first year.) But through all these difficulties, we kept fighting, kept writing our own story. Now, however unconventional, we should write our own goodbyes, too.
I’m still bitter we didn’t get to say goodbye — to get closure in the old-fashioned way. To sit bored in section one last time or stay up until 3 a.m. without meaning to or enjoy one last date at Arethusa or present our theses at symposiums or Mellon Forums. To be proud of what we’ve accomplished.
But just because we don’t get these classic senior year moments doesn’t mean we should let this abrupt end be the only end. Make your own closure. I love Yale, and I will fondly remember it. But do not make Yale the ex that you never get over. Create that goodbye in your own way, on your own terms. Undoubtedly, things have irreversibly changed — we will never get the ending we hoped for. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get an ending at all.
Unlike other universities, most of us didn’t get to see each other before we left for good. But I’m also glad I enjoyed my final moments at Yale without ever knowing they were final. We didn’t worry about making these final memories perfect. Not getting to say goodbye in person, well, sucks. But it also made those closing days more real. They weren’t rushed or agonized over. They just were.
I often find it hard to say the right thing at the right time. I’m terrible at goodbyes, either crying too hard or closing up my throat to prevent forthcoming sobs. I can’t possibly say anything of substance except a blubbered “I love you” or “safe flight.” I probably would have struggled getting the courage to open up or panicked over what to say when confronted with the many goodbyes that graduating brings.
One of my professors is assigning us letter-writing as homework in an effort to remain connected with others. In his lecture-turned-podcast, he reminds us that letters are often gifts that may not even necessitate replies. They exist as a physical reminder of love shared between two people — friends, family, significant others. In writing letters to all sorts of people, my suitemates, my old bosses, my mentors, my childhood friends, I can recognize the way they’ve shaped who I am now, making sure I do not take them for granted.
Write those letters, ones you may not even send. Use the time and space we now have to think about what you would have liked to have said if you were in that moment — saying goodbye to your suitemates, your best friend, your favorite professor — before we all left. The words that you convince yourself you would’ve been able to say out loud but probably would’ve been too scared to say at the last second. Write them all down.
When I heard the news that I wouldn’t be returning to Yale, I wasn’t worried about losing touch with my best friends. I was worried about my friends on the periphery. The ones I swore I’d make time to see before I graduated, but lost track of during the semester(s). The friends I met at Bulldog Days that I haven’t caught up with in three years. The friends I sat with in all my DS seminars but only share waves with now. The girls in society I wish I knew a bit better, had spent more time with. I want to write them letters, too, or reach out in some meaningful way — whether that be creating my own book club or FaceTiming.
Create shared experiences remotely to generate those moments you would’ve wanted. Allow yourself to be vulnerable at a time when we’re all hurting. Use this time as an excuse to reach out farther than your traditional social circle. Be a bit more inventive with your declarations of love — love of all kinds.
There is so much to be angry at, so much to be grieving over and bigger things to worry about. But nonetheless, we won’t get that time back. It’ll be a story we tell our grandkids. The historical event we wished we didn’t remember so vividly. But I have no doubt that this will make our class stronger, more tenacious, more resilient. That we will take reunions a little more seriously, maybe go to more Harvard-Yale games and, most importantly, cherish our relationships — and actually maintain them.
HALA EL SOLH is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .