Courtesy of Ananya Kumar-Banerjee
Like some of you, I spent last summer in New Haven. In fact, I spent all of my junior spring in New Haven, too. Way back in March, I started walking around campus during my free time, observing things I had never had the time to notice before. I found this really lovely spot on Hillhouse, right by the Watson Center. Over the spring and summer and into the fall, I sat on the picnic benches overlooking Hillhouse Avenue. When I think about how we’ve grown over the past four years, I find myself reflecting on the changes I witnessed in the trees hemming the avenue.
I thought of how their spiny, tender branches in February welcomed intense, almost violent growth come May. Their newfound tresses transformed the world around them, converting stolid stone pathways into walkways defined by potentials. I think of what the trees saw in the months after March: storms and plagues, a world jarred by panic and grief and loss, and then, most significantly, however selfishly for us, a campus,: emptied of its students. Last spring, we lost the thing that makes Yale tick: each other.
It’s hard to talk about graduating this year without talking about loss. And not just when it comes to our Yale experience, but when it comes to New Haven and what New Haveners have lost, the family and community members we’ve lost. People like Andrew Dowe, beloved DUS and mentor, who died long before their time. We can try to process everything that has happened to us in the past year and a half, but it’s not easy. We’ve been through a lot.
Right now, you’re here with me, on this page. But no words can recover what has been lost. So I’ll try to do something else. I’ll tell you what I do, when I get too sad about our lost senior and junior years, when I think of the people we’ve lost, the time we’ve lost.
When grief takes the wind out of me, I try to think of the mature colors of those tree leaves in late September. It was the beginning of our senior year. I was sitting on the bench by the Watson Center. In those days, I awoke to suggestions of winter’s chill in the gray moon-sky. And I thought,: they’ve come far, these trees. We’ve come far with them. They’ve grown and they’ve changed, and though their season has come to a close, it was a beautiful one.
Just like those trees, we managed to find a way through what has been a tough season, by looking out for one another. When I can find no beauty in May’s blooming sky, I try to think about how much the people I love here have done to hold me together. So we’re here now, at graduation, after our years of growth, though they may have been punctuated by grief and regret.
I know that it does not end here for us, just as it did not end on that day in September for the trees on Hillhouse. Because even as I observed their late summer beauty, those trees were already changing. They were listening to the whisper of the weather’s transition. After all, come fall, the trees did not lose their leaves in one day. They lost them slowly. They took their time.
This is all to say that graduation is a lot more like autumn than it is like spring. It feels as though something marked has changed, with all our leaves on the ground. It feels like something astounding and beautiful has been lost. Our wounded and then healing colors show through: reds and pinks and browns, plumes of orange and saffron, too. But the changes I saw in autumn had been ongoing through the summer. Even as the trees appeared to revel in their green, their bodies began preparations for a graduation of sorts. Slowly, they starved their leaves of nutrients so they could survive the cold. Their bark grew thicker, preparing for winter’s blister. Like us, their changes did not occur overnight. They happened slowly, imperceptibly. And before they knew it, the change had occurred. It was done, and the trees were irrevocably different.
There’s another summer coming soon, for all of us. And we’ll flourish.
But in the meantime, let’s pause. Consider what a fine and glamorous season autumn is. As good a time as any to reflect on the beauty of our past summer colors. And remember that as we sit here now, at this milestone, we are changing. We will keep changing, even after everything we’ve lost, even after all the ways we have changed. After all, we are living beings on this earth. Change is all that we can be sure we will do.
Ananya Kumar-Banerjee is a graduating senior in Berkeley College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.