It is two weeks into the spring semester and, as such, marks the start of what for many Yale students — myself included — is the final lap in the race towards graduation. To be a Yale undergraduate is to run the four-year — or more, depending on who you are — academic marathon to end all marathons. The paths are all different for every runner, meandering through the imposing roofs of Hillhouse Avenue or weaving through the pillars in Bass Library. The variations in the Yale marathon are endless, but the prize at the finish line remains the same as it has always been: a cap, a gown, a handshake and a bachelor’s degree written in Latin. The race is the same but different, and that is what makes it special and worth every tired step, every scraped knee, and every worn out sole.
The spring section of the race is a different terrain altogether. Sure, the same obstacles start off every semester. The mad-dash during course registration, for example, where racers elbow each other out of the way to get an extra step in, happens every time. As does the obstacle where runners who rush after dreams of becoming a cappella famous or joining a sorority will try to outperform each other. And then there is the obstacle of getting to that checkpoint in the race, such as having to buy overpriced airline tickets or getting lost in New York City. While the starting obstacles are always the same, it is harder in the spring because at that point in the marathon, the runners have become exhausted. They teeter on the brink of burn out, but hold onto the hope that the next corner they turn will house the finish line.
Lucky for seniors, the flag of the Yale diploma flies in the distance. This is their victory lap. Their final push towards the end of the race where all the different paths converge at one point during commencement. Where every runner is the same regardless of ability and upbringing. Where everyone is celebrated with the same prize. And what a prize it is! The accomplishment of running the race, making friends with the other runners, and achieving something difficult yet rewarding.
For everyone else, the race will continue in the fall. But they should not be discouraged, because every lap run is every lap closer to the end. My advice for them? Enjoy the race in all its tiresome, troublesome glory. Getting a Yale education is not meant to be easy. Many of us learned this our first year in the fall during our very first lap. We all tripped and fell and broke things that first semester, but we got up and figured out what we needed to do. It takes time to get good at running. It takes time to come into one’s own. But you will get to the finish line eventually, and this race is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, enjoy it!
Enjoy the odd premise of the new course registration system where you register months in advance before you even know what you want to do during the semester. Enjoy gathering with your friends, the other runners, for grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream. Enjoy trying new things like the clarinet or the flavored fizzy water in Commons. Yale is always changing. The race you are running is different from mine and everyone else’s, but that is by design. The Yale you experience is unique to you and affected by your choices. So, make good decisions and make good friends. Have all the fun you want to have, and give your best in all you do. Run the race, and run it with purpose.
And we are off to the races! The spring semester has begun, and the academic and extracurricular challenges are already underway for some of us — but that is okay. The days will inevitably grow longer and warmer as we all run through the spring semester. For some of us, this will be our last lap. What matters is not what place we are in, but what places we choose to end up in. Keep an eye on the finish line, but do not forget to look around you every once in a while. Take in the scenery, the music and the crowd. Yale, like many marathons, is meant to be enjoyed at your own pace. Take a breather, stretch your legs, tie your shoes. And get to running.