Mark Chung

To the Class of 2028,

Hey! It’s me, your Great Aunt Ella. God, it’s good to connect! You’ve been SO BUSY with school and clubs and tests. It’s amazing you’ve even found the time to post fun quirky photos of yourselves to the Yale 2028 Admitted Students Instagram. Back in my day, we had an Admitted Students Facebook… Sorry, I was distracted just then by the sound of time passing. 

When the YDN begged me to write this letter, I respectfully declined. I mean, how could I possibly find the time? Because if there’s one thing that bridges me, the former Yale student, and you, the future Yale student, is that we are all SO BUSY. Until we’re not.  

Right now, I am living in the week between finals and Commencement. Some have called it “Senior Week,” “Senior Palooza” or purgatory. No classes. No jobs — yet. There are boxes we could probably pack, but no one actually packs them. We are high on our own freedom — planning ice cream dates with friends like we’re twelve again and getting ice cream is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time. Some seniors went away to a faraway place called “Myrtle Beach.” I went to a mystical land of my own called “Cleveland, Ohio.” Trips are taken, events are planned, grass is lounged upon, sun is soaked in. Everyone is asking each other what they’re doing and where they’re going and for the first time, you’re not sure if they’re asking about this week or the rest of your life.

I think the reason that Senior Week is given a name and, more importantly, an activity calendar is because without the graphics in our inboxes announcing “TACOS AND TEQUILA FOR SENIORS,” it would be too jarring to go from having something you “have to do” all the time, to having nothing to do at all. So we plan trips and parties and ice cream dates. We make it the Objective of this week to Enjoy. But it’s just another way of being busy, a way of distracting ourselves from the truth: that Senior Week isn’t a different kind of week at all.

In fact, it’s just like all the ones you’re about to have. There will be things to keep you busy — classes, papers, ear infections — but then a couple of days will hit when you don’t have a lot due, or you’ve just had a lot due, and things get sort of still. For me, it would happen on Fridays at 4 p.m., and there would be this emptiness, this quiet, that would stare at me and blink.

I think we are uncomfortable with those sudden quiets. Yeah, I’m using “quiet” as a noun. It’s not a noun. Silence is the noun. But silence is too loud. These little moments of nothing whimper the truth. They don’t scream. We are busy by choice, and the state of being busy is fragile. When it shatters, just as it does in the time between finals and Commencement, it’s scary. And since this is about you, the Class of ’28, I will warn you that your first year will have a lot of quiets. Some of you will try to outrun them with meals and clubs and frantic emails to professors. Others will let the quiet grow to something more insidious and, as a forewarning, isolating. What am I doing here? What am I, actually, doing here?

There’s a lot of time in college. Awkward time. Free time. Busy time. The business ebbs and flows. We slurp it from the academy’s well like it might just save our life, if it doesn’t kill us first, and then suddenly it runs out.

Without the PR campaign behind it, Senior Week would just be a week, and it would be silent. In this silence, we might realize that we don’t actually know how to spend our time when we’re not busy with something. This isn’t new. The little quiets tried to warn us that there would be something after the assignment, after the deadline, after the party. We thought we could just wait around until we had to write another paper and it would be okay. But what happens when the time between the things that have to be done widens or those things disappear altogether? Can we live in the quiet?

This is what Yale, Senior Week and life asks of us — the lucky few who do not have to toil in fields or mines but have the privilege to linger on something we love enough to do even after the work is over. This is different from distraction, I think, because it’s active engagement, and hopefully whatever you find to linger on will be satisfying beyond a grade or salary, because those things are rarely enough. The truth is that this all gets much harder when we leave college because the material concerns grow greater. 

The world isn’t set up to let people dwell on their passion projects, though Yale, despite all the ways we take ourselves to be “busy” here, kind of is. So enjoy it.

Ella Attell is a rising senior from Cleveland, Ohio. She studies English and is a big fan of her mom and dad.