Nov. 21, 2020 was a move-out day unlike any other in Yale’s recent history.
An emotional sledgehammer struck every first year at some moment in the weeks surrounding it. For some, it was a silent moment when they saw their friend’s rooms empty, stark, bereft of the laughter and joy that had occupied them for the past three months. A desk without the TV on which they spent hours playing MarioParty or watching the rather unpresidential debates; an AC vent without a basketball hoop of faded orange and chipped glass; a common room without a spikeball net that became the center of heated debates, hoarse voices, and grazed knees — all for Shake Shack bets.
For others, tears emerged when they saw their families for the first time in months: tears of joy coloured by nostalgia. Tears, after being forced by the vicissitudes of move-out day, to say bye to their best friend through the half-closed window of a moving car. Tears, when they read blue post-its, scribbled by a twin brother on every wooden surface of the childhood bedroom to which they returned. Tears, in a minor key, with a haunting melody, a leitmotif of the day’s insufficient goodbyes.
Time — already compressed and distorted at Yale — dwindled even more quickly, as did friends. It started with 11 at 5 a.m. Walking to the gates of Prospect Street, feet dragging, unwilling to say the first goodbye. An hour of sleepless sleep later, 10 were left. Then nine. Then five. Three. Two. One.
That day, each first year on campus partook in a ritual of suffering. In a year with many ironic twists, it is perhaps most ironic that for as many traditions as Yalie first years were deprived of — the first year snowball fight, first year dinners, Hallowoads — we created our own tradition, one of shared sadness and rushed farewells. It is one that I hope no future class has to experience.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this communal tradition was how isolating it was. Being forced to go home and listen to empty platitudes like “don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened” or “at least, you made college friends who you could say goodbye to” was vexing. While I certainly feel fortunate for the opportunity to meet such inspiring, caring people and spend three months with them, feelings of longing, sadness and nostalgia are entirely valid.
The question then becomes what is the value of a tradition like this one? It certainly lacks the extravagant festivity, the sense of celebration that our favourite traditions evoke. Nor can it be considered a solemn day of emotional purgation or physical cleansing. However, it’s in the moments of inspiring emotional fortitude that first years showed that day, as they suppressed their own sadness to comfort their friends, that we find the true value of this tradition. It is the expression of first-year strength.
First years will continue to show such resilience this semester, as we grapple with the physical distances that the proximity of adjacent Zoom tiles can never bridge. By positioning this day as a tradition, we strive to acknowledge, to memorialize, to celebrate the resilience that first years showed that day and will continue to demonstrate. It is certainly not a tradition that should be carried forward, but a tradition that we construct retrospectively as we continue our journey at Yale, in the glow of hindsight.
Last Monday was a bittersweet day. Sophomores were reunited after months of bated separation. And in the joys of their reunion, they offered a path forward and a moment to anticipate for first years. At the same time, some first years returned to campus and saw a different Yale. They looked upon the spots they inhabited — rooftops, boba shops, streets — bereft of the people they inhabited them with. Most other first years logged on to their classes from their childhood bedrooms.
This semester, as we continue to experience a different Yale, we have taken one step further in braving this insurmountable challenge. In doing so, we etch ourselves into the hallowed history of Yale College. The dedication, strength and resilience of first years everywhere will offer inspiration to others in their cohort and for Yalies in graduating classes for years to come.
PRADZ SAPRE is a first year in Benjamin Franklin college. His column, titled ‘Growing pains’, runs every other Monday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.