Strangely enough, it’s Prospect Street that I miss the most. Not Elm Street, my home for the past three years; not Chapel Street, with its multiple bookstores and cozy restaurants; not High Street and its gothic canopy — no, when I picture myself back on campus, I see myself trudging up the drab road bordered on one side by a cemetery and on the other by a series of buildings I never entered.
It’s Prospect Street, though, that reminds me of all those little moments that I miss. It’s the hill I hustled up attempting to unjumble my ideas before meeting with my thesis adviser, who graciously declined to comment on the sweat pooled on my forehead. I ran up Prospect to start jogs as the weather began to warm, and I ran down it every Thursday after one seminar and 10 minutes before the next, weighed down by books and anxiety of being late.
Yesterday, in those 10 minutes between Zoom appointments, I strolled down the stairs and put on hot water for tea. I was on time for class, but I wished I were sweatier.
Most importantly, Prospect Street is the route to broomball. I have written about this estimable sport in these pages a time or two before, and I pledged not to write about it again — unless that fearsome beast called the Grace Hopper College Broomball Team won the intramural championship. With pride, I now fulfill my pledge. But I did not expect that this triumphant final lap through the sports page would conclude in melancholy.
On this final day of class — my final day as a Yale student — I recall the broomball championship as if it were a series of images filed away in an old scrapbook. Social separation has made months feel like years. I see myself brandishing a Grace Hopper flag on the way to the game, trying to swat away the jitters. I see the scrum in front of the net as we flailed the nubs of our sticks in desperation. I see the scoreboard of Ingalls Rink and feel the relief that accompanied our second goal of the evening. I see the water bath we gave to our suit-clad student coach (who was sidelined with a wrist injury).
I confess that my teammates and I cared intensely, perhaps excessively, about this frictionless, frivolous sport — if that were not already clear. After all, we had been practicing on a suds-soaked tarp since the fall.
Yet our championship chase always represented something greater. It took about two weeks of my first semester at Yale for me to become completely disheartened by my college’s intramural participation. I had always assumed that this would be how I would make my friends. Outside of a handful games, I never went. No one else did, either. It wasn’t worth a walk to Payne Whitney to receive an email announcing yet another forfeit. We finished in 12th — last — place, 150 points behind the second-worst college.
When we became Grace Hopper College, this newspaper ran a story — “Uncertain future for Hopper IMs” — in which one IM secretary pleaded, “Hopefully people will play more IMs given this name change.” A year later, when I was a sophomore, a follow-up article reported on “a kind of intramural renaissance” but reminded us that “the last time Hopper, then Calhoun College, won the [Tyng] cup, gas was 59 cents a gallon and Gerald Ford was president of the United States.”
Hopper kept rising in the intramural standings, from 12th to seventh to a close second last year. In the worst-to-first movie script, our broomball championship this winter catapulted us toward a triumphant spring celebration. The screenwriter did not expect the celebration to come early, and on Zoom. Nevertheless, we achieved our destiny: Grace Hopper did indeed win the Tyng Cup this year.
But intramurals and quarantine do not mix. Broomball, I think, is the diametric opposite of social distancing. We share helmets and sticks, grab each other to avoid slipping, and jostle opponents in front of the goal. With a single exception, I don’t believe any broomball player scored a goal farther than six feet from the net. We travelled in a large pack back to the Hopper buttery after every game.
In my previous broomball columns, I wrote that the sport, however silly it was, embodied the virtue of simply showing up, of being present, in person. For the most part, the same people came each time. Broomball is something I would do only with a group of people I cared a lot about. On the ice, scrambling in sneakers after a little ball, I never felt foolish.
Before our semifinal game, I spent a long night in the library attempting to start my senior thesis. It was the most paralyzed I had ever felt in a school setting. The longer I sat without making tangible progress, the more stressed I became. And then I closed my computer, put on my trusty (and too-short) track pants, and played broomball. I credit that game with rescuing my day, and perhaps my entire thesis. Our community on the ice froze out my worries.
Though no one wanted to admit it, I think we all knew that we would win. Our coach, my dear friend, secretly stocked his backpack with champagne and vuvuzelas. The referees stopped him from cracking open the bottles on the ice, so we moved our revelry outside.
I knew I would remember this, but I did not know that it would, in effect, be my last in-person memory as a Yale student. And for all the pomp and circumstance of Commencement, this was enough.
We did not march around the New Haven Green, as Yale seniors typically do. Instead, we paraded down Prospect Street, jubilant, waving our flag and blaring our horns. It was a processional marking a triumphant culmination of a long-awaited goal and, yes, the commencement of something entirely new.
There was no fancy dinner that night, just an ice cream sandwich from the buttery. I did not wear a cap and gown, but my treasured intramural T-shirt, caked with sweat. We did not say goodbye. Prospect Street will be there for us when we return.
Steven Rome | firstname.lastname@example.org