During my gap year in 2018, I wrote an op-ed about my fear of missing out. I’ve unexpectedly found myself in a similar position as a senior about to graduate from Yale.
During that time away from campus two years ago, the most heartbreaking thing that I faced was the challenge of existing outside of Yale. It meant missing out; it meant feeling alone; it meant watching the world go on without me. Although my gap year, unlike this current separation, was a choice, I still feel a similar sense of “missing out.” Now, however, I know that this experience is both magnified and universal to the class of 2020. We as an entire year are missing out on milestones that every other college student will get.
I haven’t discovered some magical way to not feel like we’re missing out. Knowing everyone else is miserable makes me no less miserable. For someone who has touted that she had gotten over the fear of missing out after a year away, I’ve been incredibly inept at doing so. But this pain is valuable and legitimate, and so the question becomes: what can we feel not instead of, but alongside this pain?
My friends and I are toggling between extremes. Sometimes we purely feel the regret and the loss. Sometimes we proceed to bottle those emotions up. Sometimes we go into hyper-productive mode and dedicate our lives to professional bread baking. I’m no psychologist, but this simultaneous denial and distress has given me neither relief nor closure. So while these emotions of regret and loss should not be “fixed,” I sure as hell am going to find a better coping mechanism than this.
For those of us who have the privilege of more time during this pandemic, maybe we can use this time to understand ourselves a little better. By that, I mean asking ourselves some hard questions about a world that we have just left, albeit not by choice: What let us down during our time at Yale? What didn’t? What will we look for in future relationships and experiences?
Though many of us loved our time at Yale, I’m sure we can all agree that few of us had perfect experiences. In the past weeks, I’ve focused on the loss that I have suffered and the beauty of my undergrad experience. But it is important to consider, while it is fresh in my mind, that which I would’ve changed, that which I did change, and that which I will change for the future. This pain of missing out can be held in tandem with knowing there were imperfections.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say we should forget all those happy college memories and focus on the bad. But as Yale students, many of us have the time to a) cry a little more (which I am taking advantage of) and b) create something new when the world starts turning again.
So what am I choosing to remember?
There are so many things. The extremes I have no choice but to remember. Sobbing before I left Yale in 2018, feeling like I’d failed. Crying of laughter piled on my twin-XL bed with my best friends. Feeling lost when I logged out of my last class on Zoom, sitting in my childhood bedroom. These are the peaks and valleys that populate our lives.
But tucked between the painful and the joyful and the life-changing are the mundane. For these moments, there are no landmarks, no scars, no words.
I don’t know if I will remember the wonderfully crumbly texture of the cookies — stacked five on top of one another, teetering on the arm of a wobbly wooden chair — at a College Tea. I don’t know if I will remember the feeling of rainwater seeping into my sneakers when I inevitably step into that one huge puddle that always forms on Cross Campus when it rains.
But it’s not just the memories of life at Yale. It’s also about how we engaged with Yale, and how that shaped us.
I don’t know if I will remember the times I never reached out after making plans. The time I unfairly “canceled” someone on Facebook. The time I judged someone as shallow from one impression they gave me in my first year. On the other hand, I don’t know if I will remember all the little moments when I was proud of myself, when I was happy that I stood up for someone, when I swallowed my pride and apologized. Unlike memories of College Teas and Cross Campus, which tell us more about Yale, these moments tell us who we are.
These are the instances that were not important enough to become stories in their own right but nonetheless helped shape us and our experiences. So when we reflect, we must keep the seemingly ordinary in mind. They help us understand the mistakes that we do and don’t make and the spaces and people that do and don’t deserve us. We are not just our best and worst moments, we are the everyday minutiae in between. And the path to our best and worst moments can sometimes be altered by tiny changes in the mundane.
In my last days as a Yale student, I am thankful that I once had the chance to leave Yale on my own terms. That I got to figure out the spaces I was happy in, and the spaces I was not. Now, as I leave Yale for a final time, I am scared, but hopeful. Scared because I am out of chances to rewrite my college experience. Hopeful because I know that all the things I would’ve changed about Yale are things I can still change for my life after this.
Future changes will come from remembering the everyday moments. For all the times I was hurt, I hope I remember the times I unwittingly hurt someone. For all the times I was kind, I hope I remember when others were kind to me for no reason. Above all, I hope to remember that even the mundane moments — especially the mundane moments — shape who we are and who we will become.
Sharon Li is a graduating senior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.