I am humble. Or, at least, I try to be. One way I try to live humbly is to listen more than I speak. Two ears, one mouth and such.
But what is a commencement column without a confession? And so, I confess: like any self-respecting Yalie, I am proud. Sometimes, too proud.
One such moment of excess pride came during dinner one night in the fall of 2016, our first year here. I hadn’t yet made any real friends, so I decided to sit with, unbeknownst to me, a bunch of future finance and tech and fintech bros. They were ripping into their Cape Shark™ and Mother’s Beef Brisket™ when their leader, an especially enterprising wannabe citizen of corporate America, began to divulge the details of a recent interview he had had with a trading firm worth many hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Yeah, there was this one question that stumped me completely. Let’s see if you guys can figure it out. What’s the longest it ever took to approve an amendment to the Constitution?”
My ears perked up.
Two weeks, one guy guessed. Ten years, said someone else. The person next to me said it must have been a hundred years. Everybody laughed at him and said he’d have to go work for Boston Consulting Group. Or worse, they whispered: PWC.
I guessed within the confines of my mind that the answer was around two hundred years. Progress takes time.
“You’re all wrong, and I was, too. The answer is something like two hundred and three years.” They all whooped and hollered in disbelief, slamming their table and scattering Ancient Grains™ everywhere. Inside my head, fireworks exploded across a night sky to the tune of Queen’s “We are the Champions.” Fans across many, many stadiums jumped to their feet and chanted “You’re number one, you’re number one!” Morgan Freeman clapped me on the back and winked at me. “You did good, kid — you did good,” he said.
In the real world, a shit-eating grin spread across my face. I gathered my plate and my cup and went to bus my dishes. Smugly, I sighed, and thought to myself “Adrian: you’re so smart.”
Taking ECON 108 and withdrawing from ECON 108 would prove me wrong, but in any event, I think back to that moment often. Not to my stupidity or to Morgan Freeman, but to the kids around me who thought that two hundred years was an unbelievably long time.
I guess one thing that I’m proud of as a history major is that the study of history offers perspective: on the political, on the social, on the cultural, but most importantly, on the temporal, the consciousness of which, I’d argue, is the defining feature of the human condition. Time passes. Things change. We look back and, if we have the good sense to do so, we reflect.
We all know time has passed. Yesterday, we were sitting on our beds in our dorms on Old Campus (or in Silliman or TD). We were crying and doing our best to hide the fact that we were crying, because we had a FroCo group meeting in 10 minutes. We were scared and hopeful, lonely and desperate to be alone. We were feeling all the things.
Things have changed. We have changed. Some of us came to college with a girlfriend and are leaving college wanting a boyfriend; some of us came to college knowing exactly what we wanted to do, what we would do, and are leaving college lost like never before; some of us came to college thinking we knew it all, and it’s my sincerest hope that we will leave college cognizant of the magnitude of our ignorance.
But perhaps the biggest change has to do with the end of our time here. None of us is where we were supposed to be this week. We are not on Old Campus with our loved ones. We are not making one last round around the school to say goodbye to people and places and things. We are not together to celebrate the passage of time and all that it has brought and all that we have wrought here in our newfound home. We are, no matter where we are, feeling all the things.
And so, with the past before us, we reflect.
Two hundred years is a long time and it isn’t a long time. Four years is a long time and it isn’t a long time. How do we make sense of these facts?
I’ve heard many people I know say that these are the best years of our life. The gladdest, even. I like to think of them instead as merely “different.” Different in many warm and wonderful ways, ways that need not be enumerated here. College, Yale, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But there’s so much more life to live. There are first books to write and campaigns to win, there’s love to be had and marriages to attend, there are babies — precious, precious babies — to raise and grandchildren to hold as a captive audience to stories of our bright college years. There’s self-growth to work toward. There are places to move to and people to help and problems to solve. These things will not be good in the way that living with your best friend is good, in the way that a bacon, egg and cheese from GHeav at 2 a.m. after a suite party is good, in the way that the Yale experience is good. But they will be good all the same.
It might not seem like it now, but brighter days lie ahead. For all of us, I hope. I often return to something Abraham Lincoln said one hundred and sixty-one years ago. He told the story of a king, who searched for words that would “be true and appropriate in all times and situations.” He found them.
“And this too shall pass away.”
“How much it expresses!” Lincoln said. “How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction!
“And this, too, shall pass away.”
We knew our time here would pass. It has passed. One day, we, too, will pass. But, Lincoln goes on to say, “let us hope the saying is not quite true.” Some things have to remain. Some things have to endure. Though our time at Yale is over, though our time here was short, and though our time on Earth is short, let us live in the light of that which we encountered at Yale in abundance, in the light of what will endure. Let us live in the light of truth, beauty, friendship, community, and, in all of its wondrous forms, love. Love, love, love.
Adrian J. Rivera is a graduating senior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a staff columnist and former Opinion editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.