I came to Yale with nothing.
I had no idea what I was doing, or what I wanted to do with my life. I was just a kid from Kenya with dreams of getting an education. Now, four years later, I am leaving with nothing. Sure there’s a job, the prospect of money in a decade maybe, a new city to call home. But all these are nothing because I cannot really call them mine. I can’t quite look you in the face and tell you I wanted any of these coming to Yale.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up lessons that spoke of a world that was resistant to change–that required us be productive members of a society whose systems would fight us and our dreams then demand we build it in turn, that sought to separate the have’s from the have-not’s in more ways than I thought possible, that complicated a search for true passion and purpose by including the confounding need to labor and stand on one’s own feet. My dreams have been allowed a rewarding complication by my time here, yet are still packed with a wandering purpose and a fear unbeknownst to those who are blessed with having everything. I am not the same person who arrived four years ago–I have grown so much, and learned much about myself and the world around me. I have made some of the best friends in the world, and they have helped me through some of the darkest times in my life. I am grateful for everything that Yale has given me, even though it is nothing of what I expected it to be. I came expecting to find a community of like-minded people who would help me achieve my dreams. Instead, I found a community of people who were just like me: lost and searching for something more.
Through it all we found friendship and support that has helped us get through our time at Yale: we hunted the famed gut class, danced nights away in a haze of parties filling collegiate hours spent barely awake, commiserated at study breaks through bumpy finals periods. This and only this is what I, we, leave with. Memories. What else is there to be had? I doubt any of us found what we were looking for when we came to Yale. That is the nature of coming to such a famed and storied institution: it is difficult to get it to tell our stories when it has so many more already. But it is not regret that I feel as I leave; it is joy.
I can now recognize Yale’s emptiness while appreciating its beauty. I can revel in the pride of graduation while musing over the arguable pointlessness of many of the traditions we sink so much of our lives into: application-only clubs, exclusive spaces in an exclusive space, yitter, a distinct separation from the city we call home. Each of these, though, has brought me boundless joy. So it may be that I have become a more complex man, able to appreciate and hate at the same time. Maybe, though, I have become a hypocrite: a man who has learned to glorify the things he is and burn all he is not. Which of these sounds more true to you? The answer, too, could mean nothing to a world that does not listen.
It is true that I have nothing, and have gained as much in my time here. Yet I am happy that this lesson did not reduce me to nothing. If there is nothing I leave with, I am happy to have only this. And so while I may leave with nothing, I know this nothing is more than the one I walked in with because it acknowledges that it is nothing. I may have nothing, but here and now, it is my everything. The memory of a thing that will follow me through the world, meaning nothing and everything all at the same time.
FELIX MORARA is a graduating senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at Felix.email@example.com