Courtesy of Sydney Holmes
I have spent the past four hours toggling among a trio of browser tabs: an I-must-refresh-every-minute-or-I-will-never-find-a-place-to-live search for 3-bedroom apartments in New York, a Canvas discussion post that has languished at 230-some of 300 required weekly words on monasticism, and a draft of this essay. Senior spring is a time of both serious and silly stressors, and on particularly stressful days like today, I have to convince myself anew of what I’m about to say: This was the year, more than any other at Yale, that I felt agency over my time.
My G-Cal, at first glance, does not support this theory. My senior year was society bios and Mellon forums; it was single-set tennis matches on Saturday mornings and Tuesday afternoons spent volunteering at the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op; it was teaching a sewing class with one of my best friends the month both our theses were due. Yale students tend to adopt an almost competitive busyness, a baseline all-booked-up from which time must then — impossibly — be carved. It feels almost inevitable that in my final year I would find myself constantly scheduled, wrapped up in a collective, fun and mostly frenzied effort to make up for lost time.
Lost time, lost time, we lost so much time. I lost mine to both the pandemic and this newspaper, which I ran last year when operations were fully remote. My junior year was 6:30 alarms to start filing a newsletter for my fall-term job at Politico; it was break-less, breakneck days of answering angry Yale Daily News emails and covering California politics; it was evenings-turned-mornings of editing, reporter training, conflict resolving, budgeting, editorial board running, website designing, financial aid fundraising, cultural center special issue producing, recruiting and general crisis managing that lasted until 1:30 a.m. on a good night, 4:30 on a bad one. I lived alone, and my schedule would have rendered socializing impossible if Covid-19 hadn’t already, so I saw another person once every few weeks (usually at the grocery store, if I found time to go). I can’t think of a decision I made on more than five hours of sleep. And it was, as my peers need little reminding, a brutal year of news: the YDN published fifteen obituaries during my tenure; campus Covid-19 outbreaks and law school scandals first reported by the YDN became national stories; students and staff grappled with painful conversations about mental health and workplace racism.
I think about it constantly, all that lost time, the chasm between what was and what should/could/would have been. How are these supposed to have been the best four years of our lives when one-and-some were online? When were we supposed to find our passions if all our energies were spent surviving a pandemic? Where was our chance to stumble into the wrong seminar room during shopping period, to get a random sophomore-summer internship that changed our career goals, to meet this professor, to make that friend? “The innovation which we begin by this morning’s issue,” reads the first sentence ever published in the YDN in 1878, now painted on the stairs descending to the basement of 202 York, “is justified by the dullness of the times, and the demand for news among us.” What I would have given for duller times and lesser demand.
But Yale is never dull and ever demanding. We learned that when we arrived, in this place tens or thousands of miles from home and three centuries our senior. I remember it so clearly: Bingham Hall rose out of downtown New Haven like the August heat to my fourth floor suite, where I debunked and rebunked those Twin XLs and wondered which of my 1,577 fellow first-years would become my best friends. That very intimidating number soon became eleven in my FroCo group, eighteen in my seminars, another dozen or so covering New Haven news. As I divided my version of college into its more manageable constituent parts, I found myself pulled in a new direction by each of them, as well as pushed by my desire to take advantage of all Yale has to offer — and, by trying to be everywhere and do everything, to make myself worthy of those offerings.
What I learned is this: There is no inherent value to busyness, or at least not the Yale-determined busyness I fell into so quickly. People can only withstand so much pushing and pulling until they snap. This University’s abundance gave me every opportunity to reach my personal snapping point; my year as editor made it impossible not to. And it wasn’t until I completely lost control over my time — along with, of course, the very idea of collegiate time itself — that I realized how little agency I had felt prior to the pandemic, and how much time I had already lost by living at the whim of my classes and extracurriculars rather than making those commitments follow a rhythm of life I set for myself.
So my senior year busyness was a sort of pendulum swing, an attempt to make my remaining months at Yale more fulfilling than they were draining, to have a satisfying answer to the question everyone asked of me before my YDN retirement in September: What are you going to do with all your free time? October felt desperate and scrappy, always coming from and going to, and never just here: at this library, at that bar. In November, my pillow developed an indent in the shape of my head (as did the pillows on my friends’ couches). My December reading period was more focused on Elf screenings and holiday cocktail parties than actual, you know, reading — and when exams were over and everyone had gone home, I walked around campus and felt, for the first time in a while, a complete calm. I’d made peace with the parts of me that belong to this place and pandemic and newspaper; once I had peace, I began to feel pride.
These don’t have to have been the best four years of my life to have contained some of my life’s best moments. I don’t have to have always liked Yale in order to have loved it.
And so as April gardening crews planted May flowers, and the hours competed with the days and weeks in a windsprint to Commencement — as I toggled between the excitement and scariness of post-grad limitlessness, and the browser tabs of a jaded college senior and a young adult just starting out — I tried imperfectly to tread along slowly, in this place that I came to see as, among other things, a walkable community of potential friends. That is the Yale — not Yale the institution, Yale the corporation, Yale the brand, Yale the image — that I love, the Yale I will miss.
Mackenzie Hawkins is a graduating senior in Trumbull College. She was Editor in Chief of the News for the 2020-2021 school year. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.