I wasn’t the main character.

I thought Yale would be perfect, and perfect for me. I’d walk into Yale and know exactly what I wanted and how to do it, I’d be surrounded by faculty who were invested in me and classmates who would be my best friends and I’d take full advantage of all the resources that Yale has to offer. I would get everything possible out of Yale. I would peak in college. 

But I didn’t do Yale right. I took 400-level courses my first year and 100-level courses my junior year. I’ve never taken an economics class. Commons had been open for two semesters before I got around to eating there. I’ve been to Woads twice. I’ve never had a coffee from the Jitterbus or a curved exam. There are three people graduating in my major. I wasn’t in a secret society. I took classes I enjoyed and found a community I love, but I wasn’t at the center of Yale. Whatever the “Yale experience” was, I feel like I only got a fraction of it.  

The irony is, I think a lot of people feel the same way. And COVID-19 makes this especially true for the class of 2023. We only had two Spring Flings. We lost an entire year of dining halls. Most of us never got to study abroad. For those of us who didn’t take gap years, we received more than 25 percent of our education over Zoom. None of us had the quintessential Yale experience. 

At times, I resented being cheated out of so much of Yale. And even when things were “normal,” I struggled. I wanted to love Yale and throw myself into things. But I never became what I thought a Yale student was supposed to be. 

But I learned how to be happy at Yale when I stopped trying to hit plot points. Trying to do Yale “right” was unbearable. Instead, I gave myself the freedom to just do Yale well. 

My Yale was sunny chairs in Bass and writing the first draft of every paper by hand. My Yale was 7 a.m. Bible studies and Friday night worship services. My Yale was a 114-page thesis about my hometown: the overlooked little city of Wilmington, Delaware. My Yale was dinners in Hopper’s dining hall with a long table full of people I love. My Yale was window seats and architectural drawings and doing readings in bed. My Yale was swimming at Payne Whitney Gymnasium and then writing in the locker room. In 2020, my Yale was tan lines and long walks and ginger tea and getting to be part of my little sister’s childhood.

I’m not going to win any awards for my time here. I didn’t do the most or the best. But I worked hard and learned things that transformed me. My Yale wasn’t perfect — but it was mine, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. 

And the truth is, even without COVID, even if I’d gotten into every club and class I’d wanted, I could never do it all. Yale is too much, and that’s what I love about it. I love that there’s more to Yale than I’ll ever fully understand. I love that I’ll never be able to draw every window or attend every concert or eat all the free food. I love that I got to spend time in this magical place where no one could do everything, but we all did something.

As exclusive and insulated as Yale is, we were always real people and Yale was real life. And life is too big and beautiful and complicated to ever feel like you did it all and did it “right.” Life, especially in the last four years, was chaotic, confusing, heartbreaking and unjust. But I still laughed and ran and danced and wrote, because that’s real life, too. I’m glad that the Yale bubble couldn’t shelter us from messy, imperfect, exhilarating reality. 

So maybe you didn’t meet lifelong friends. Maybe you don’t have a job lined up. Maybe you’re leaving Yale more broken than when you arrived, or maybe none of this is relatable because you’re thriving. Maybe you’re leaving with happy memories, and maybe you’re leaving with regrets. But that’s how we’ll leave life.  

And life doesn’t have main characters; it has human beings. Yale doesn’t have a story. We have stories. You don’t have to follow the script. 

I turn 22 on May 22 — meaning that my golden birthday is also the day that I’m graduating from Yale. This is my day, and it has been since I was born. 

So maybe I am the main character. Or maybe reality is more serendipitous and poetic than the story I wanted to write for myself. 

Life is longer than Yale. Your story doesn’t end here. 

Amelia Dilworth is a graduating senior in Branford College.