I cannot begin to imagine all the wisdom that hides within the faux-Gothic walls of Yale. They have witnessed the rise and fall of regimes, they have stood strong through world wars, they have fought unspeakable pandemics. And through it all, they have never stopped supporting each and every one of us through our hardships and triumphs. Always patient and never belittling, their ocean of memories were our backbone for the past four years. Yale’s clockwork bells and the promise of her spring blossoms screamed that we, too, could survive the weight of the world, because Yale would always be our home.
In reflecting on the year, The New Yorker called global protest the “story” of 2019. I’d, however, say that that story neither started nor ended in 2019. In this season of major social change, our time at Yale has not only been marked by political unrest, but bookended by it. I cannot make a list that does justice to the social movements we’ve witnessed across the globe these past four years, so I won’t. But they feel as infinite and as deep as the collections we hold in the Beinecke.
Being at a school that values social justice, surrounded by books and people and stories of adversity and hope at a time so incredibly ripe with social change that the world cannot contain itself, has perhaps been the greatest gift that Yale has given us (beyond each other, of course).
In the fall of 2016, when I barely understood the politics of this country, Donald J. Trump was elected into the presidency. It was the first world-shaping event that Yale’s walls protected me from, shielding me from the backlash and framing the lens through which I interpreted politics. Even as messages of condolence and support flooded my inbox and story after story emphasized the end of America as we knew it, I had no real grasp of how awful it would come to be. But, maybe Yale did — even the gray-cast November skies couldn’t dim the solidarity, the wholeness of our campus that morning.
I joined the Yale Daily News the fall of our first year, while the pre-Trump summer flowers were still in bloom. And I loved it. I loved the Yale-ness of it all, I loved the wonky staircase that bore the footsteps of countless before me. The humming of 202 York Street seemed, to me, superhuman — as if Yale itself was keeping us going long after the rest of campus had fallen asleep.
Most of all, however, I loved feeling like I was taking part in history. That by documenting the richness of the ideas that swirled around me, I was writing the stories that would one day be framed in our memories.
My first piece was about the 9/11 memorial service in Beinecke Plaza, cut out and framed by my beaming best friend on the 15th anniversary of the disaster. As a newly-minted University desk reporter, I covered what I thought, at the time, to be a black-and-white world. Writing the who-what-where-when-why of news stories seemed straightforward. Journalism, after all, strives for the truth, and in the day to day of our lives, it seemed to me that all situations had but one correct explanation.
But summer turned to winter, and as the nation’s leadership changed, so did my understanding of what I saw around me. Writing became my anchor in a world filling with gray: a haven in the turbulence of college life, a way of standing my ground.
Each poster pinned outside Durfee’s, each protest that filled our campus avenues, each social movement somewhere unimaginably far from New Haven, showed me that the burgeoning flecks of gray in my once black-and-white world were critical. They proved that the truths I held sacred might not be so to someone else. But that did not diminish their value; rather, the limitless diversity of our ideas and experiences is what makes Yale so special. And when put in the context of a world of protest, each of the passions we dedicate ourselves to have the power to make the world a more just, more human, maybe less violent place.
I found my tenacity through writing. But for each of you, it’s something different.
Now, it’s 2020. My senior year has been marked by the biggest political upheaval that Hong Kong, my home, has ever seen and by the coronavirus, which needs no introduction. While heartwrenching to experience, both events have brought me closer to the communities around me, and more aware of the place I have in them.
When I stood listening to Shades sing “We Shall Overcome” that cold November morning in 2016, I could not have predicted just how much we would face in our four years here, nor could any of us have seen how it would all end.
But maybe that is Yale’s parting gift to us.
With coronavirus scattering us across the world, we are writing history together one last time. We will always be the graduating class who held seminars and happy hours online, whose college portraits were a Zoom screenshot and not taken in our blossoming courtyards. But we will also be the class who rallied for Universal Pass and found the fortitude to finish our theses, who cried and laughed and did our best to feel the whole spectrum of commencement emotions, even while miles apart.
And, if you think about it, this also means that we are forever unforgettable — to God, to country and to the faux-Gothic walls of Yale.
Hana Davis | firstname.lastname@example.org