Author’s note: This piece was written prior to Thanksgiving break 2020.
It gets dark early now. At around 4 p.m. the beams of sunlight that illuminate my common room begin to fade. The sky transforms into a navy blue canvas on which the sun paints orange streaks. Saybrook’s imposing walls loom over my suite with a mysterious and overwhelming power, intensified as they cut through the blackening atmosphere. At the start of my last week on campus, I sat and watched one of these sunsets from my common room window, and I began to understand and appreciate my relationship with this university.
Normally, I wouldn’t pay any of that much attention. Before then, I woke up each day with a singular focus: get my work done and get one step closer to the end of the semester. But something about my impending departure from the university forced a quiet emotional reckoning.
Before coming to campus, I streamed “Hamilton” on Disney+ an embarrassing number of times. What always stood out to me was Hamilton’s joy and wonder when he first arrived in New York. He had relentless passion, curiosity and ambition because he was aware of the enormous opportunity before him. He was dead set on changing the world … and he did. When I arrived at Yale on move-in day, I fully expected to be met with a Hamiltonian abundance of opportunities to learn, grow and change the world … and I was. I spent the first few weeks of school meeting as many club heads, faculty members and innovation leaders as was humanly possible. With each meeting, my desire to get involved in everything I could at Yale multiplied.
But after every Yalie has their first realization that “Oh shoot, there are so many things to do at Yale!” they have their second realization that “Oh shoot, there are so many things to do at Yale.” Such was my experience. The fire in my belly was quickly replaced with the anxiety inducing pressure of deciding what to do. Each potential path at Yale was met with an infinite opportunity cost. God only knows what Nobel Prize-winning professor I could’ve learned under or what extracurricular adventure I could’ve undertaken if I’d made a different choice. Instead of engaging in Yale’s entrepreneurial community, I joined student government. I missed out on working with the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project because I decided to write for the YDN. Nevertheless, the awe with which I regarded Yale’s resources vastly outweighed my fear of tapping into the wrong ones.
Still, there are aspects of this university that frustrate me. Zoom learning has been a ruthless endeavor for both students and professors, and it seems as if Yale’s institutional gears just continue to turn, unfeeling and unforgiving. The cavalier way in which Yale’s administration has treated student activists is disheartening, and they continue to make decisions about COVID-related campus procedures in an esoteric fashion. While the University’s leadership may be well within their purview to behave as they do, the cumulative effect of their actions creates a veil of indifference to the well-being of their students. And feeling that your university does not care about you hurts.
Yet, being a Yalie confers a privilege too large to ignore. Living inside the blue bubble blurs reality in a way that places the University comfortably at the center of the universe. We can allow schoolwork to take priority while hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives to a deadly disease, and a movement for social justice progresses just outside of the University’s walls. We can regard our clubs and extracurriculars with intense seriousness knowing that, at least while we are on campus, our needs are largely taken care of by the University with an expansive treasure chest of wealth.
With these privileges come questions that keep me awake at night. Do I deserve to be in this position? Am I doing enough with the opportunities I’ve been presented? What if I don’t live up to the pressure and responsibility placed upon me by my community? What if I’m just being selfish by burying my head in my books while the world falls apart all around me?
When I am not agonizing over those questions, however, I stand in awe of Yale. I relish the fact that I can be a young person in a new place at a strange time, that I can explore every aspect of what it means to be a Yalie, that I can experiment and redefine who I am and what I want out of life.
My relationship with Yale is complicated, but I know there will come a time when I can no longer watch from my common room as the sun illuminates the University’s century-old walls, so I cherish each moment I have here.
Caleb Dunson | firstname.lastname@example.org