Dear Class of 2024,
This letter is not only meant for you. It’s also for all my fellow Yalies who can’t wait to return to campus. But mainly, it’s for you.
There’s this feeling, almost like cannonballing into the water. Your eyes grow wider, and grinning from ear to ear, you clutch your knees and brace for impact. Those few seconds just as you submerge into the water stop time: there is no past or present, only you.
Then time comes rushing back as you return to the surface for air.
Last Thursday, this is how high school seniors must have felt when opening their admissions decisions. You all held your breath and braced for impact, as you submerged into Ivy Day anxiety.
The blank screen probably didn’t help. Oh, wait, no, it’s a video! This is your big splash; the noise fades into the background as time halts. No way … NO WAY! You remember to breathe, if only to scream in excitement and relief and awe. You hear muffled squeals around you, but all you can focus on is that age-old music you’d turn off in a heartbeat if it didn’t have so much significance. Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow Wow Wow…
Eli Yale; Yale College; campus bells; Harkness Tower. I put down my notepad and pen to listen to the church bells across the street. It is just before 3:00 p.m. here in Chicago, as the chimes fill my backyard with familiar sounds and wistfulness. They are soon gone, but the bells echo in my heart as I write this letter to you, Class of 2024.
I reflect on my own joy as one year (one year?!) ago, I swam in your place. I still feel the rippling effects of my big splash, and I’m almost certain that this enthusiasm never diminishes, but instead diffuses itself into the real moments (I call them “Yale moments”) that you will soon come to cherish.
Not the big overwhelming moments of change. But the moments that follow. They seem to exist as sequels to our biggest experiences. Only this can’t be the case: these small subsequent details can be appreciated independently and by themselves. For instance, when you are overcome with nostalgia for the last four years (assuming your montage is not like Katie Heron’s), you will remember high school not for the whole, but for the sum of its parts. You will laugh, cry and reminisce on moments that transcend the bounds of time, as past experiences present themselves at the forefront of your memory. At least in this liminal space that you currently reside in — not completely a Yalie but on the cusp of such a bizarre chapter — you can dance (or maybe, limbo) with the daffodils.
Today, with all that is happening in the world, nostalgia has invariably filled the homes and hearts of many students, in high school and in college. Never before (or rarely in our lifetime), have such small things — a friend’s hug, sounds of bells or simply sharing space with others — held so much meaning. Perhaps we took these things for granted, but shouldn’t we have? Everyone should be over familiar with these basic building blocks of human interaction.
We must recognize that those beautifully big moments — like graduating high school or getting into college — must always be followed by something. Something to dream about, to look forward to.
Maybe this is best explained through a crash course in college-level close reading. As Proust once said, “When life walls us in, intelligence finds an opening.”
Close Reading 101 — the first literary skill you should master, because it will define your college experience (as many things will, but this one is good for writing papers). Step 1: Read the book (Big plot! Big themes! Big moments!), and then re-read it. Step 2: Find a passage — or passages — that speaks to you. Step 3: Analyze it: line by line, word for word. Ponder purposefully. The secret to a great book is not its plot — the rise of a king or the fall of a hero — but the treasure trove of meanings you uncover within.
Close reading calls for you to be possessed by the text, just as it possesses its author. It requires you to notice details so specific that they are not, and simply cannot, be contrived by coincidence. Closely reading a text is to imagine realities unexplored and discover literature’s alternate realms. These intricate threads of etymology, language, culture and history explored on one page (or even in one sentence or word) of a novel also provide a lesson about how to live life.
As big moments pass you by, as big events are cancelled and the future looms with uncertainty, you must fix your eyes upon the details that will always make a big difference. Human beings have never been omniscient, and while there are many unanswered questions in the air, the sky is vast enough to hold not only our solutions, but also the new realities and redefined normals that your class has yet to discover.
And of course, the biggest questions must be on your mind: “How should we live?” and “What will come of this?” but give yourself the room to explore the hidden aspects of your own storylines — and those of the class you all will soon become.
Actually, the class you already are. The Harkness Tower bells I hear, they call for you.
May you follow their sound home,
ZAPORAH PRICE is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her columns run on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .