What does memory mean to you? 

For me, the concept of memory has always been a struggle to comprehend. What makes an unforgettable memory seems to be blurry and somewhat complex. It is not what we remember about a particular moment in our lives, but how we remember it: how we see, shape and store the memory. This process is what makes memories different. 

It is always easy to remember a cherished moment because it was already delightful. On the other hand, it is a learned ability to “try” and collect happy memories. With a myriad of societal issues and the pandemic, this skill is not just optional, but necessary.  

Yale has always been a capstone, a place that was both momentous and unknown. Coming from kilometres away, I only had memories of other Yalies to hang onto. But, there are no collective memories or advice for an unprecedented year like this. Instead, I only had emails and Zoom links to try and understand what kind of Yale experience I would be able to remember 20 years later. 

As I read welcome emails in the summer, the transition process appeared to be perfectly outlined, easy and accessible to everyone in the diverse student body. I did not realize I was living in a fairy tale then. I did not capture the vague wording of all those messages, uncertain answers in the Zoom panels or the prolonged arrival emails. All these informatory aspects were strategically structured to look complex, planned and organized but here we are, living the planned chaos as the whole Yale community. 

My move-in day brought these dreams to a grinding halt. I was practically thrown out of an Uber on Chapel Street with five huge bags laying on the pavement. As I frantically searched for the Saybrook gate and stressed whether I caught COVID during the flight, I felt like I was missing out on the moment because I was too afraid that my memory of move-in day would be this exhausting, horrifying experience. 

Raising my head, I took a deep breath. I looked around at the exceptional buildings that seemed to be from a 19th century painting. Feeling an outstanding sense of belonging to a place I had never even been to, I struggled not to scrub my tear-filled eyes or touch my face. I was at Yale and that was what really mattered. 

This is not a personal moment of realization, but a collective, communal mindset. I am at Yale; You are at Yale; We are at Yale. We may be afraid of having bad memories: not being able to meet a lot of people, missing out on social events, etc. But, I would argue that a memory is only based on the way we choose to think about an event. If we perceive this new era as a way to collect happy memories, then that is what we will have years later: an incredible semester, in the middle of a pandemic. 

Shaping memories is like a hidden superpower — it is merely a matter of realizing that you have it. Once you start using it, the greater impact is undeniable. You start to appreciate small moments, look for subtle details that make you feel genuinely happy, focus on positives and dwell on solutions rather than problems; Ultimately, you can define your perception of life itself.

I learned this attitude growing up when I had to move from one city to another, all the time. New places mean new people, new environments, foreign cultures, different communities and the overall challenges of establishing yourself. Once I realized the way I remember my time in these different cities is in my hands, I tried to make sure my memories would reflect what I gained as an individual. 

 Shaping a memory can be broken down into three easy steps. First, recognize the reality — both positive and negative aspects — of your experience. Memory shaping is not about denying the negative aspects — to be honest, all memories probably recall the negatives. Memory shaping is more about framing those negatives in a different context. With this knowledge, it is easier to focus more on the moment itself, rather than worry about making a positive memory. 

 Second, consider why you are living through certain things. If it is a choice you made for a greater purpose, then you’ll remember this day as a stop along the way — a moment of hardship on the road to what you want from your life. Third, appreciate minor positives rather than big negatives. Think closely about what made you smile or laugh today, look around and think about how you dealt with a problem. Cherish the small moments.

 Now, my move-in is an unforgettable memory in my life, and I mean it in a positive way.  I chose to accept both the bad and the good. I thought about what the event really meant — I was at Yale! I try to look at the upsides — the beautiful buildings, the feeling of belonging. 

 Memories are strong creations of the mind, but they are never strong enough to shape themselves. We can influence them and thus control how we perceive our experiences. The meaning and value we put behind our circumstances determines how we will remember them years later. 

It’s important to note that the pressure to have positive memories is real. We should be sure to be  accommodating and cooperative with our own turbulent experiences this year. It is okay to have a bad day, a fight with a friend or another annoyance. Yet, if we focus too much on how we will remember our Yale experience, we may take away from the hidden glory of the moment itself. 

You are more powerful than what the reality appears to be. Though a lot has changed, remember it is still your Yale experience and it is still your memories. Now only one question remains: Are you willing to take the lead?  

DILGE BUKSUR is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact her at dilge.buksur@yale.edu