Daniel Zhao

The week from March 8 to March 14 was one I’d been anticipating for quite some time. The Yale men’s basketball team was set to compete for a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid at Ivy Madness, hosted by Harvard, while the opening round of March Madness — the two greatest days on the sports calendar — was slated to commence a week later.

On March 10, my excitement continued to build as the Bulldogs were awarded the league’s automatic bid following the announcement that the Ivy League had become the first Division I conference to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on account of the novel coronavirus. In the days that followed, however, my hopes of Yale becoming a first-round Cinderella went out the window as professional and collegiate sports across the country were subsequently canceled or suspended indefinitely due to public health concerns. 

While I became instantly disappointed that I wouldn’t get to watch Eric Monroe ’20 or Jordan Bruner ’20 close out their storied careers in the NCAA Tournament and also see our men’s lacrosse team compete for another national title in the spring, I recognized that the loss of sports obviously paled in comparison to the loss of life related to COVID-19. 

Then on March 14, all Yale students were informed that in-person classes had been canceled for the remainder of the spring semester. As a member of the class of 2020, this was particularly devastating as it meant that our senior week and commencement activities were sure to be canceled as well. Now, instead of experiencing a traditional graduation ceremony, we’ll have the experience of receiving our diplomas in a package sent to our home mailbox.

Students supporting Yale men’s basketball at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in February. (Photo: Lukas Flippo)

In sports terms, this was the equivalent of playing 38 minutes of a basketball game without getting to play the final two minutes. Rather than finishing out the end of our Yale careers back on campus, we were collectively benched and told that we cannot step back on the field even as the final moments of college rapidly ticked off the clock. And, unlike sports, we cannot blame our loss on some arbitrary factor such as poor officiating or inept play-calling. We simply happened to be in the first class graduating from Yale during a global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. 

One thing I learned playing sports in elementary and high school was the importance of a sudden-change mindset. This meant you had to be mentally flexible and prepared to respond to any event or play that might happen during a game, even as statistically implausible as it might seem. But just as I never thought I’d see Yale score four touchdowns in the final 1:28 and overtime to beat Harvard in The Game, I never could have anticipated my Yale experience ending in such an unpredictable and isolated fashion. Bottom line: be prepared for anything because everything is possible at any given time. 

Sports is often a microcosm of life. In sports, you learn to expect the unexpected after watching enough games. Although I’m only 22 years old, life has quickly taught me that nothing in the future ever goes as exactly planned and that — in the blink of an eye — the most unexpected things can become rather ordinary with enough time (see: quarantine living). 

With a tumultuous job market after (virtual) graduation and an indefinitely postponed commencement ceremony, the class of 2020 will need to be ready to adapt to anything that the post-Yale world throws at it. Even if we didn’t get the closure and finality that the last month and a half of college would have offered, we still got to fully experience most of our four-year career in New Haven, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. 

“Just as I never thought I’d see Yale score four touchdowns in the final 1:28 and overtime to beat Harvard in The Game, I never could have anticipated my Yale experience ending in such an unpredictable and isolated fashion.”

Joey Kamm ’20

Time will tell if the Yale class of 2020 is luckier than the groups which come after us, including the class of 2021, which may have the entirety of its last fall semester moved online depending on how this pandemic pans out. Even if the graduating seniors didn’t get to say goodbye to each other this May, we can only be excited by the fact that we’ll get to reunite again and properly graduate at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

It may not be what we originally expected, but we can at least take solace in the fact that we’ll collectively have one of the most memorable graduating experiences in the 318-year history of Yale University. Even if it’s over Zoom. 

Joey Kamm is a graduating senior in Saybrook College and a former Sports Editor at the News. Contact him at joseph.kamm@yale.edu.