It is customary in these reflections to think of the opportunities Yale has given us or how our amazing professors and classmates have formed us, but these are not the Yale experiences I feel shaped by. Instead, I feel compelled to address all that we have been hardened by. Could the first-years that stepped onto this campus years ago have predicted that their college experience would be defined not by studies abroad, cutting-edge research, or Avant Garde classes but rather collective struggle through an unprecedented isolating time in world history? I am not claiming that these traditional moments did not exist during our time here, but I find it dubious to color them as the primary agents in our education. There were opportunities, but they were vastly curtailed as compared to those experienced by other classes. Life during most of our years at Yale was certainly not normal.
When I think of my Yale experience, I am not reminded of Camp Yale, IM events, service trips, or even research. I remember my empty suite in Vanderbilt Hall, that tiny place I called home for the academic year of 2021-2022. I am reminded how it felt not to see anyone else for days, pleading for accommodations that never came, refusals to give students extra food so they could bring it to their classmates who were unable to pick up food themselves, and the apparent abandonment of any social support by the college. It is within that solitude that I became a Yalie.
Those of us on campus that year, we remember. On the tiny zoom screens that became our world, we found solace in confronting the work together. It was not our backgrounds or experiences or majors that connected us but rather to be at Yale during that time bound us together. The friends I made will never fade from my memory. In that hardship, there was kindness, ingenuity, and shared compassion. We held onto the little things: battling squirrels out of the stairwell, surfing extra beds downstairs, anthropomorphizing wars between birds and squirrels on the Green, and throwing soybeans out of our windows to ward off spirits. I am reminded of one particular cold night in the fall semester. As I ran through the rain, howling to a campus that was dead but for my two friends, I laughed, screamed, cried, crawled, and finally, ascended through the city. We reached the Divinity School and stared down at the city, calling out to the empty streets. Our cries gave voice to a common struggle, a common place, and a common experience. This was Yale for me.
Yale lies in those unspoken connections, secret jokes, and banal human experiences that connect us. It is within those moments that I learned that eating a PB&J sandwich or finding the time to have a weekly Gobbler night could also be time to reconsider who I am as a person. In those moments, my friends and I discussed policy and how we could leverage each other’s collective expertise to change the world. We saw solutions cut off by corporate greed and stagnant politicians and our role at an elite institution in changing that. We argued, chewed on, and bit off more topics than I can remember. But I felt confident that in the future, I know who I could call on, rely on, and change the world with.
While both our academic and personal achievements position us to become leaders in a country riddled by turmoil, it is the Yalie spirit that will change the world. Our pursuit of knowledge, while first-class, must be motivated by our willingness to collaborate, to struggle, and to strive with one another.
To the professors at Yale, who cultivate this, I thank you. I have had amazing professors at Yale, but my closest mentors and my favorite teachers were not those we are famed for having. I found mentorship in a small lab, in a small humanities class, in an assistant professor in the introductory biology sequences, and in many others. To all the faculty, who prioritize their research careers over their students, I ask you to reconsider your role as an educator. While unsung, your work to mentor the next generation will have far wider impacts than your next publication ever could.
I implore the Yale community to redouble its efforts to create students willing to act on contemporary issues. Let us find ways to act together.
NICHOLAS DELUCA is a graduating senior in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org