There are days when I don’t like Rory Gilmore.
As a student at a university whose widespread representation as a paradigm of talent and privilege was significantly influenced by the show that proudly bears her name, this might seem like a particularly controversial opinion to adopt, but it’s one that I’m sure is far more common than I believe.
For those of you who did not spend the summer in lockdown before your first year devouring episodes of “Gilmore Girls” to learn everything you could about Yale traditions, small-town Connecticut and love, Rory Gilmore is an aspiring journalist, the quiet, witty daughter of a single mom and the granddaughter of two wealthy grandparents for whom she is permanently dappled in the golden light of the halo perched atop her head.
While her grandparents pay for her private school education at Chilton and Yale, in a later season of the show, she decides to take a semester off from Yale, gets into a frustrating argument with her mother, runs to her grandparents in tears and moves into their newly renovated pool house with a 24-hour maid service. Her grandparents, while gratuitously indulgent of her every whim and fancy, can be overbearing in their concern for her well-being. When she discovers this fact, she promptly moves back in with her mother without so much as a thank you for the months during which her grandparents took painstaking care of her every need.
When I first saw these events of season six unfold, the only thought that came to mind was that I had never noticed how unbelievably spoiled Rory could be: She not only displayed no visible gratitude for hospitality that rivaled a seven-star resort — albeit one with a nosy next-door neighbor — but also had the temerity to walk out of her grandparents’ life without so much as a thank you.
However, as much as I would hate to admit it, I certainly have a little bit of Rory in me.
By that, I certainly don’t mean that Boccherini’s Minuet was played on repeat at my fictionalized black-tie 18th-birthday cocktail party, nor that I am in the practice of playing golf on my private course every Sunday. I have simply been blinded to the meaning — and triumph — of my own privilege by its limited definition in its limited context, delineated by the boundaries of political discourse.
Nobody likes to admit their privilege. The word is stuffed with connotations — an aspersion on your character, a denigration of your ability and an accusation of your status all in one. Today, the word seems incompatible with the ideals of struggle, hard work, sacrifice that define a self-made man or woman, clashing with the illusion of an American dream. Admitting your privilege has become tantamount to undermining your merit, as if everything you’ve achieved is sullied by the discretionary benefits of your status.
I don’t think it my responsibility to aggrandize my struggles — to justify my merit, my ancestry or to provide quantifiable yardsticks to compare them to the struggles of others — nor do I think it my obligation to prostrate myself in shameful, self-flagellating apology for the things that allowed me to end up here – at Yale. I, instead, think it would be far more valuable to redefine privilege — to see it outside the constraints of merit and demerit, public policy, questions of equity and fairness, and to see it rather for the ubiquitous, pervasive element of our diurnal existence that it undeniably is.
I am privileged, undeniably so, not solely because of the clothes I wear or the school I went to, but because I am my parents’ son. My privilege comes as much from being unconditionally loved as it does from being given the opportunity to apply to a school like Yale — both are immense and equally unquantifiable. I am privileged to be my grandparents’ grandson — to be the apple of someone’s eye, to know that however much I may err, my mistakes will be rectifiable in their eyes. I am privileged to be my schoolteachers’ student: Not solely because of the quality of the education they equipped me with, but because of their unwavering faith in the content of my character. I am as privileged in friendship — both at home and at Yale — as I am in opportunity. By highlighting the infinitesimal acts of kindness, the serendipity and happenstance that have shaped our greatest successes, my point is not to diminish the value of macro-privileges like wealth, security, education but to emphasize the value of micro-privileges like family that permeate our every success and cushion the fall of our every failure.
Certainly, as I write my last column for this semester, I would be remiss not to mention that even this column is a privilege. I am privileged to have editors who allow me to muse and meander rather than persuade and posit, often blurring the lines between opinion and sentiment as I am wont to do. I am privileged in that I — an inexperienced 19-year-old — have the freedom to share my personal Weltanschauung with my peers, professors and mentors alike. I am privileged to have readers like you, because in my eyes, privilege is linked less to unfair demerit than it is to ineffable gratitude.
Until next time.