On my last day as a Yale student, the sun set at 4:26 p.m.
I started Yale in 2017 and should have graduated in May 2021, but I made a very last-minute decision to take a semester off in fall 2020. I’d been dreading returning to campus, being isolated from most of my friends, and potentially getting sick, just when the acceptance email for the perfect remote job opportunity landed in my inbox. The decision not to go back to school was hasty, but it was right.
By the time January 2021 rolled around, though, it was time for me to return to Yale. The pandemic still raged on. I waffled about going back basically up until the day I left home, and even once I’d returned to New Haven, I wasn’t sure that the decision was right. But it’s what I did, and I slowly came around to the conclusion that in that moment, I made the best choice I could’ve possibly made.
That semester, I lived off campus and realized that survival without Yale Dining is hard, so I became a regular at Basil. I listened to my best friend stress over her senior thesis during masked walks in loops around Beinecke Plaza, and I Zoomed into what was probably the best set of classes I took during my time at Yale (surprising, I know) from my 75-square-foot room. I overloaded my schedule, felt frequently overwhelmed, and didn’t see my friends nearly enough. It was a semester that would have never happened like that in literally any other set of circumstances.
But when I returned that semester, I made more than just the choice to make red curry and pork dumplings the cornerstones of my diet: I made the choice to experience my senior spring before my senior fall. I chose to leave Yale when it was 49 degrees instead of 76.
Every year, we turn back the clocks when Daylight Saving Time ends, and every year, New Haven gets dark. It’s easy to forget how the sun acts in certain seasons until you’re in the thick of them. It’s easy to forget that going back to New England after Thanksgiving break means it’ll be a while until you can see daylight after 4:30 p.m. again.
That’s how first-year fall is, that’s how sophomore fall is, that’s how junior fall is, and that’s how senior fall is. For me, the difference was that in my first, second, and third autumns in New Haven, I had the longer-lasting sun of the spring semester to look forward to, even if it might’ve been covered by clouds more days than not. I had friends I was excited to see after winter break, spring classes I was already bluebooking, and a pink Christmas tree in my common room.
I didn’t have an almost completely foreign cast of faces in the dining hall, a senior thesis to write, and my foot halfway out the door.
This isn’t all to say I regret my choice. Honestly, I don’t know if I do. I have lots to be grateful for that I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d made a different decision: one last chance at in-person courses, an extra semester of French toast in the Silliman dining hall every Tuesday morning, timing that allowed me to find what was probably the ideal first job for me, a very healthy distance from campus when Omicron ended up sweeping through the student body earlier this semester.
I experienced my final moments of college very differently than a lot of seniors are doing right now — I felt my nostalgia quietly. I took walks down Hillhouse instead of a flight to Myrtle. I ate my last few Yale Dining meals from to-go containers in my room when Omicron shut down the dining halls, instead of attending a senior dinner in my residential college.
And instead of making the transition to the Real World™ in May, I ended up outside the Yale bubble for good when it was chilly. It was 25 degrees in Philadelphia on my first day of work this January, and the sun set a little bit before 5. It’s gotten warmer since then, of course, and I see lots more daylight these days — but it only makes me wonder how it might’ve felt if I’d arrived at a different time.
I’m coming back to New Haven for Commencement and officially graduating with the Class of 2022. I’m looking forward to the fanfare of it all, to seeing my friends and celebrating with my family, and to finally getting a sendoff bigger than an email from my residential college asking me to return my room key.
But most of all, I’m excited to sit on a bench somewhere on campus, watching the sun go down at 8:11 p.m.