“Robert W. Hirsch,” read the golden placard on the western wall of my study room. As a college student does, despite an essay due in the morning and despite not being halfway through it, I took the bait. Google was my oracle in this endeavor, and after scrolling through several Robert Hirsch’s, I finally found the man’s obituary. I began to read.

In his portrait, he wore a half smile and aviators before the backdrop of a brilliant blue lake. A Michigander, he loved to fish for trout and tell stories to his grandchildren. He also served in the United States Army for two years. I then realized, with the omission of a diploma, the Robert Hirsch I was reading about was not the same Robert who graduated from Yale, not the one who donated enough money to receive a golden placard and a few strained eyeballs each day. But his obituary was valuable nonetheless, in as far as it was an obituary, an object that attempts, in vain, to sum up a human life.

This episode inaugurated a new habit for me: trying to read one obituary a day. I would argue this is a much more valuable practice than the daily consumption of an apple. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but not forever. In due course, the organic decay that is imperceptible now will seize your systems, and a doctor will be there to facilitate your decline. An obituary a day keeps your perspective in place. Yes, a morbid title indeed, but one must write about these things. 

What if your life was reduced to a single paragraph? This is a question everyone should ask themselves through their whole lives. Smart but admittedly gloomy 12th-grade teachers should assign each student the composition of their own obituary. How much of the paragraph of your life would focus on your career? Maybe two sentences. Most of the paragraph would center around your character, family, community impact, hobbies, and some notion of a legacy. It would center around how you made people feel. 

David Brooks writes about two sets of virtues, resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the work experiences and skills that make you a productive employee (aka moneymaker). Most Yalies are constantly constructing their resume virtues. The eulogy virtues are the qualities of your character, those trademarks that make you singular and lovely as a human. These are the virtues that the attendees of your funeral will talk about and that will define your legacy. 

An education at Yale provides pathways to the acquisition of both virtues, yet one pathway appears as a pipeline at high tide, and the other a wasteland. I’m all for pipelines (metaphorically speaking), but as the years pass one must balance their focus on financial success with a conscious emphasis on that impending eulogy that will escort them into the earth. If I have learned one thing from the digital stacks of obituaries I have swallowed, it would be the necessity of nurturing your character, even at the expense of your career. In the end, it will be worth it.

So, idle reader, read an obituary or write your own. Read the placards in Bass library, and google the names as a profitable method of procrastination. Most importantly, Memento Mori, remember you must die. As I write I remember Robert W. Hirsch, my deceased family members and myself at the glorious age of 10. I pull up photos from that year and squint at the pixels and a smiling face that was me. What would I tell that little boy from Simpsonville, South Carolina? 

I would tell him that time feels slow, that you stare at the classroom clock for years and wait for recess, and then suddenly you are not 10 anymore and suddenly you graduate high school and suddenly you are a first year no longer and suddenly you are married and suddenly your parents die and finally, you find yourself approaching the last stop on a wild ride that was your life. I would say that amidst all this suddenly, you must aspire to write every moment of your life with a character and a quality that you would be proud to read of in your one-paragraph obituary.

DANIEL ROMOSER is a first year in Silliman College. Contact him at daniel.romoser@yale.edu.

Daniel Romoser is a first year in Silliman College. Contact him at daniel.romoser@yale.edu.