This summer, I have spoken to many of you in the midst of your Yale journeys. You have told me about your hopes and fears, about the excitement of being a Yalie and about some quintessentially Yale memories you are making. You have also candidly shared with me how you are thinking about the coming year and how you are wondering if it even makes sense to continue your Yale experience for now. According to a News survey, more than half of you say you are either likely to take a leave of absence this year or are unsure about the decision.
Those of us in the alumni community can only imagine the kind of decision this is for you. Of all the challenges any of us endured, none involved facing a Yale experience that is so drastically different from what had been just a few months prior. And many of us, too, remember how rich our Yale experience was precisely because of those uniquely Yale moments that cannot easily be lived on Zoom or six feet apart from one another. At the same time, those of us who are now alumni have also learned how swiftly all the years fly, not just the Bright College Years.
If your long-term plan is to complete your Yale education, remember that a year deferred from Yale is a year that will need to be made up later. A year deferred is a year seeking opportunities outside Yale when there are relatively few and returning to spend additional time at Yale once opportunities become more numerous again. As a recruiting lead to Yale for a global technology company, I know from my work how rare “off-cycle” fall and spring internships are in this industry even when the economy is doing well.
Moreover, a year deferred may also be a year delaying other things you might want in your lives — continuing your education, progressing in a professional or other endeavor, even starting a family. It may currently seem — and it may well be — that there is time enough to spare a year here or there. Whatever your present selves tell you about extra years you may have, do your best to ask your future selves of even just 10 to 15 years ahead for their thoughts, too, hard as this might be.
Having said this, a year deferred need not be a year delayed. Is there something you absolutely see yourself doing in the future, regardless of whether there had been a pandemic or not? If so, now may just be the time to at least start doing that if you can. Some of the most iconic and creative undertakings have, perhaps unsurprisingly, emerged from the depths of challenging times. In these moments, creators have — at last! — found themselves with the critical time and absence of distractions to immerse themselves wholeheartedly in something that calls to them.
Whatever you do, try not to fill a gap year just for the sake of filling it because this time of your life is especially transformative. In a 2013 TED Talk, University of Virginia clinical psychologist Meg Jay observed that 80 percent of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35.
Most of you, however, may find understanding your future selves elusive, and with that elusiveness undoubtedly comes confusion and worry. For those of you like this, you owe yourselves some soul searching: what is it that you are seeking in your Yale education, and why? If you are taking a year away from in-person or online Yale coursework but not quite sure what you will be doing in the meantime, would it be better to just continue your Yale education?
For all the changes over the years, the core of a Yale liberal arts education remains: to build a rigorous understanding of yourselves and the world around you. Some of your peers came to Yale with this self-understanding already underway. But for the vast majority of you, this is your purpose at Yale above all others. Spend the time now to figure out what you like, what you’re good at and what the world is looking for — both to decide your professional goals, and even more so, to decide the causes that you will let into your lives.
Even with the best made plans and the most well-tuned discovery, the unexpected can still happen. I am certain that few if any of you imagined last fall that we would be in the throws of the present situation. Likewise, my graduating class remembers all too well what it is like to have plans dashed. Graduating into the depths of the Great Recession, many members of the Class of 2008 experienced challenges that included seeing opportunities and employers disappear and wondering if a not-so-great start would have lingering effects later.
But on the whole, our class learned how to make the most of challenging circumstances. We taught ourselves and one another how to persevere and, ultimately, emerge stronger. Even though all of this came to pass right as we were finishing our time at Yale, many of us still leaned on one another for the support that saw us all through to the other side. While we would have wanted better circumstances, we were above all determined to make the most of the situation.
If tribulations of Yalies who have come before you are any indication, you will look back and want to know that you made this year count. So before you fully immerse yourselves in whatever path awaits this fall, make sure it is the right path for you. If you worry that a path other than the one you chose at first may be the right one, reach out and talk to someone — advisers, your dean, family, friends, Yale alumni — and see if you can pivot. There is still time to have these conversations. And through it all, remember to take care of yourselves and to make sure your fellow Yalies do, too.
This energy of the Yale spirit has seen Yalies through challenging times at Yale before, and that same energy will see you all through now. For those of us already on the other side of the Yale experience, we hope you reach out to us if we can help in any way this year. We know that, one day, you will do the same for those who follow you.
BRAD GALIETTE ’08 is Secretary of the Yale College Class of 2008, Class Agent for the Yale SOM Class of 2011, recruiting lead to Yale for a global technology company and former Director of Finance at the News. Contact him through the Yale Alumni Directory or Cross Campus.