Henry Stranger

To the class of 2020,

I wasn’t originally in your class. I came in as the Class of 2019 and then left for a year and was adamant that, when I came back, I would remain loyal to my original class. I didn’t put much effort, if any at all, into making friends in my new year.

But, as I think of all my memories from three-quarters of a senior year, I realize that this was, by far, my favorite year of Yale. I remember asking a friend, “Is it just me, or is the Class of 2020 just objectively nicer than every other year?” He gave me a weird look and said that they definitely weren’t objectively nicer. I gave him a look back and said they were definitely objectively nicer than my original year. Perhaps I’m not quite using the word “objectively” correctly.

Looking back, I have had the privilege of knowing the class of 2020 (or at least the small fraction that I interacted with) at their best. Forget the messy drama from your freshman year, the housing fallouts from when you were a sophomore or the slow whittling down of your friend group as a junior. I have had the privilege of knowing a group of people for only who they were in that moment.

In other words, I came into our class with little to no preconceived notions. Sometimes, that wasn’t great. I didn’t have the whisper network to tell me which people I should stay far, far away from. But I also didn’t know who went a little too hard their first year, who wasn’t on the best terms with who, what anyone was known for. I didn’t know where the cliques fell, didn’t know who was cool or who was the child of a movie star. I didn’t know anyone’s reputation.

In many ways, this was strangely wonderful. Walking around campus sometimes felt like walking around as a ghost. I had been so wrapped up in my own world the first few years that it felt both bizarre and freeing to come back to a Yale where everyone I knew was gone. At times, however, it was immensely lonely. I was used to planned weekly meals and a constant stream of noise. I did not know how it felt like to turn the volume down so low I could be alone with my own thoughts.

I won’t lie, I was also enthralled with the fact that not only did I have no preconceived notions about anyone else, no one did of me either. I don’t mean to imply by any means that I was well-known in my class, but it felt like the person I was as a first year proceeded to follow me around for the next three years. I didn’t know how to extricate myself from the girl who had perhaps tried a little too hard to please too many people. The girl who behaved how she thought she was expected to behave in order to be fun and outgoing and sociable. I am not ashamed of who I was (though that was not always the case); but, to be fair, we are all growing and maturing. Just like many other people, I am not who I was four years ago.The things that I said and mistakes that I made — no one knows them in the class of 2020. Similarly, I do not know those of anyone else.

Sharon Li

Of course, some mistakes are unforgivable, and I don’t mean to reduce them to silly things that one regrets from their first year. Others, however, stem from us all being a little more naive, a little less communicative, a little less mature. How many times have you decided not to like someone simply because they rubbed you the wrong way when you were both underclassmen? Maybe it’s just me, but I have made judgements quickly and liberally. I have not been generous in allowing people to change, in allowing others, as well as myself, to be more than one thing at more than one time. 

This isn’t to say, however, that our first-year personas were just some inferior, more stupid versions of ourselves now. The people we were four years ago are deserving of kindness, forgiveness and space to grow. Similarly, the people we are now, who we will again look back on in four years, are also deserving of this same generosity. But, in all honesty, it is much easier not to judge someone for their past when you simply cannot see it.

When a friend from the class of 2020 shares a part of their life from their first three years, I feel like I am taking a little peek into someone’s past that would otherwise be obscured. It feels like I am in on a secret. But I also know that this means what I know of many people is decided and sometimes curated by that person and that person alone. And the same goes for me. When I reveal something, I reveal it from the perspective of a more mature individual. I do not admit all my mistakes. I talk about how silly I was as if the person I used to be is completely separate from who I am now. There is danger that comes with this as well. This sense of curation. Of knowing you are safe.

When getting to know someone in my new class, it felt like a lie to talk about all the times I had been wronged without them knowing all the times I had wronged someone else. I can be impatient and unkind. I can also be oblivious, not knowing when I am doing those things. I know the true parts of my personality come out in conversations over coffee at 4 p.m., late night text musings when I’m sleep-deprived, side comments in conversation. They come out in my likes and dislikes, in the mistakes I’ve made in friendships and the times I have and haven’t apologized. These are the ways you understand another person. Not only through what they tell you about themselves, but also what they don’t: the habits you see that they have, the occasional miscommunications, the little things.

I guess all this is to say is that I am thankful to have had this chance to recreate my time at Yale. To have not known the class of 2020 and for them to have not known me either. To have each interaction be wonderful and new. To have learned about people as they are, not for who they were. So thank you. For not judging me (though maybe you didn’t have enough time to do so). For showing me what it feels like to make my judgements a little less quickly, a little less liberally. For letting me meet you at your best and for seeing me at mine.


Sharon Li

A stranger and a friend to the class of 2020

Sharon Li | sharon.li@yale.edu