It feels oddly like the first day of my first year all over again, except this time, fuller. More alive. More vibrant, too, as if the world has suddenly taken on a shade that no LED screen ever came close to coloring.

I’m still a far cry from my normal self. I’m in the middle of shaking all that rust off my conversational skills, which have shrunk and shriveled through all the months I’ve been shut in my bedroom. I’m slowly learning to match Facebook profiles to real faces, struggling to trek between Science Hill and Old Campus — figuring out all those other strange troubles that come after what seems like a one-and-a-half-year hibernation. But I’m awash in a happy kind of sensory overload, my spirits buoyed by the good food and even better people.

I write this as bursts of laughter and all those pent-up words come bubbling out among the circle of juniors a few yards next to me. There’s the usual, jittery jumble of anxiousness and excitement floating in the air. There’s an eager anticipation of all the work, people and late nights that lay ahead of us.

But mostly I feel awe. It’s not every day that you get to work out in what more closely resembles a cathedral than a gym, after all. I’m in a place where 14 dining halls serve me food to my stomach’s desire and world-renowned professors share the same wood-paneled seminar rooms with me. I live in a residential college deserving of Harry Potter treatment. I have century-old libraries with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a lifetime’s worth of books no more than a three-minute walk away.

Tell me I’m not dreaming.

Of course, glitzy Gothic buildings and light-soaked classrooms should never overshadow all the acres of progress and room for accountability that Yale still has stretched before it. As an institution, and as a college, it’s far from perfect — Yale has yet to prioritize its students’ mental health struggles, pick up its act before the greater New Haven community and confront its troubled legacy of elitism, to name just a few. But I struggle to describe the feeling all the same, this disbelief mixed with equal parts pride and joy as I find an unoccupied tree on Cross Campus or gaze out from the window on York Street. Surreal might come closest to articulating it.

In the midst of the pandemic, we created a school year no less memorable than any other out of plexiglass dividers, Zoom screens, laughter and tears. Twelve months later, we embark on the beginnings of a college semester just as exciting in packed lecture halls and music-filled common rooms.

Maybe that’s the magic of Yale: the fact that this 300-year-old campus has always had something new to show us — to surprise us with — behind every peeled-back layer and passing year. That here, somehow even after generations of shoe soles and stories have worn down these stone paths, life and learning never get old. There’s always a little more magic, just a few more pockets of wonder to spare. Like Woolf’s Scottish lighthouse, Yale is a place — no, more than that: a special combination of people, moments and dreams all gathered together with astrological fortuity and astronomical precision — that seems at once time-bound and timeless, eternal, undying.

That magic might wear off occasionally, slipping behind tomorrow’s test, melting into the pages of our books, at times seeming to disappear altogether in the unforgiving grind of deadlines and schedules. Life will get in the way. But it’ll always be there, patiently waiting for us to return to it even after the tassels have been swung or the 4 a.m. lamplight extinguished. Those moving staircases, those talking fireplaces, they never really left us to begin with. We just have to remember how to find them.

For now, though, my heart is nestled snugly in Cross Campus. I feel grateful to be surrounded by people who have welcomed and uplifted me, one pixel and punchline at a time. I feel grateful to be here.

Sterling Memorial Library looms faintly behind the students reclining on the grass. I have books, whole stacks of them, sitting in my dorm room. A problem set that I have yet to start on, an essay to write.

No matter. I can still see the slightest notes of summer in the leaves. And all I want is to savor this sense of wonder, hold onto it for just a little longer.