In math, there’s a concept called a random walk, where an object moves across space in no clear pattern. At Yale, it’s been easy to feel pigeonholed into a prescribed path: completing our majors, fulfilling distributional requirements, applying to prestigious schools and jobs, and filling up our Gcals with meetings. I’m guilty of it too.
But I like to think of my time at Yale as a random walk, because what I will remember most are all of the spontaneous walks I took here, rain or shine, night or day, with friends or even alone.
When I entered Yale, the walks I took were often just like me. They had pre-determined destinations and agendas: the solitary sprint up Science Hill to catch a 9 am intro class, the group walk from Old Campus to my residential college dining hall, or the limp back from Payne Whitney to my room after a strenuous workout. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I was sure there was only one way to get there.
But as I grew, I realized there was a beauty in the uncertainty of things. My initial dreams no longer held true. I dropped a major, quit extracurriculars, and found new passions. And living on my own, I learned who I was. My walks began to reflect that too. In the process, I became a little braver.
I ran into people on the street and decided to accompany them for an adventure, sometimes against my better judgment. I had crazy conversations and profound philosophical insights while jaywalking Elm Street for the thousandth time. I took more risks, strayed further from home than ever before, and might have almost gotten hit by cars (thanks New Haven drivers).
Moving beyond my comfort zone allowed me to notice and cherish the smaller things: the changing autumn leaves while walking up Hillhouse Avenue, the cool, crisp winter air as I left Sterling at night, the first daffodils emerging in the spring as I passed by Old Campus. I valued the company I kept, because even if I didn’t know where I was going, I at least knew someone else was there with me.
I walked through all types of bad weather. Downpours and blizzards couldn’t stop me, even if I lost an umbrella or two in the process. I walked at all hours of the day and night, sometimes emerging from the libraries after pulling all-nighters and other times coming from the frats after a night out. Even if the soles of my shoes were beaten and bruised, or my brain was fried, I continued to press forward, one foot in front of the other. I developed resilience.
When the pandemic forever altered our college experience, and called me to tap into that budding resilience, I let it blossom. I continued to turn to the random walk. Weekends previously filled up with suite parties and happy hours turned into miles-long walks with friends and family to pass the time and commiserate.
I didn’t know where I was going or what the world had in store for us. It was impossible to plan for the weeks, months, or years ahead. But in those moments of disruption, I just knew I was walking somewhere, anywhere, and that was enough. Now, though we are all walking away from Yale and splitting off onto different streets, I feel like my random walks have prepared me for the uncertainty of what comes next.
There were many possible ways to do Yale and to emerge as a person. I might never understand all of the small choices that led me to the path I eventually took, but on all of my random walks, I discovered the path isn’t so simple. So many streets can take you to so many destinations. On my random walk through four years of Yale College, I noticed the beauty in meandering. Being led astray may in fact lead you to where you want to go.
A compass knows it will always point true north, but humans aren’t machines. We don’t have a compass to guide us in the right direction because life isn’t as discrete and comprehensible as we often want it to be. Whether you walk with a deliberate destination in mind or walk to escape the problems you face, consider straying from the conventional path, in all aspects of the word.
When my family arrives for Commencement Weekend, I look forward to taking them on a random walk through Yale’s campus. I can’t think of any better way to encapsulate what I’ve gotten out of these four years.
SIDDARTH SHANKAR is a graduating senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.