What is the measure of four years? Is it the list of minutes, hours, days spent working — as one does in a university — toward a finite point in time that will validate the cost of time lost? Perhaps it is instead the list of nouns — people, things and capital “P” Places — which populate these many minutes of a few four years? Could four years be measured by the length of a research paper, the number of books charged to a library account, the rows of empty seats in lecture halls? The task of measuring four years at Yale is immense in its demands and infinite in its scope. To be a Yale undergraduate — on the verge of crossing the stage at Commencement and then into the great life that awaits you — is to look back at the time spent in pursuit of your degree. Measuring the worth of those four years is impossible because those years were worth everything.
Four years at Yale is a vast soup of memories. For my year, the class of 2023, that soup includes everything from Yale Dining’s suspiciously hard rice, COVID-19 vaccines and the poems of William Wordsworth. In these years, this University, this country and this world have changed in innumerable ways. In the span of four years, the class of 2023 survived freshman orientation, the untimely demise of Durfee’s Sweet Shoppe, a neverending pandemic and a presidential election so violent it shattered the way Americans approach their government and one another. And all the while, the class of 2023 changed alongside it. Turmoil is the toughest and steepest of learning curves, yet here we are — history-makers — with the future in our hands. The path ahead will be difficult. The problems our generation will be tasked with are growing ever more complex and difficult to solve. But there is hope in the knowledge that these four years will have laid the groundwork for the important work of shaping our future for the benefit of our families, our communities and our planet. Perhaps these four years are best measured by the lessons we have learned along the way.
Yale is the training ground for our adult lives, whatever those lives may turn out to be. For many of us, life at Yale was the first time we lived alone, away from the places we called home. For us, these four years are measured by the things we have learned about ourselves and the world around us. I, for example, learned many things living alone for the first time. I learned that life is best shared with friends, that “Moby-Dick” is an incredibly long book, that Bass Library has a fantastic graphic novel collection, that William Faulkner’s stories are not fun to read and that no one really knows what black-tie attire is. I learned that feeling lost is normal. To be a young adult is a messy, overwhelming, beautiful thing. It does not take a college degree to know that, but for some of us college is the place where all of these hard lessons are learned.
In fact, for those of us who are the first people in our families to get college degrees, these four years present the additional challenge of figuring everything out for the first time. Going to Yale as a first-generation college student is a lot like building a plane mid-air. It is four years of questions, questions, questions. Where do the first-class life vests go? Should I operate on auto-pilot? How does one apply for financial aid? What happens if I fail my astronomy midterm? And how on earth do I land this thing? Navigate the sky for four years, and you’ll have the answers. They are collected through the trials and errors and triumphs of trying things out.
These four years are measured by the passengers we picked up along the way. Those friends, professors and strangers who fill the seats of the plane and cheer you on as you try your best to not crash. Wherever and however you choose to land after four years — as a teacher in Dallas, a consultant in Ankara or a news reporter in Buenos Aires — the experience of flying, of living and learning for the first time at Yale, is more than enough to prepare you for the rest of your life. And what a life it will be!
The truth is, it is impossible to measure four years at Yale by how one spent it. It is better measured by how one changed because of it. No matter who you are — the first or fifth person in your family to go to Yale — four years at Yale is a metamorphosis. It is time spent viewing yourself through a kaleidoscope, looking at the many different facets and colors of the life you live and plan to lead. For now, at this moment, those colors are Yale blue. Soon they will be the color of springtime, of Commencement, of the road ahead. These four years were worth everything — and what an honor it has been to fill these four years with the memories of life at Yale. What a joy it has been to fill these years with Harkness Tower bells, Sterling Library books and the countless people I have met in classes and in passing. I measure these four years, this short life at Yale, with more than just what I have done. I measure it with the blue ribbon of the person I have become. A ribbon knotted at Phelps Gate, where I first entered, and wrapped around the lives of the people I have had the honor of knowing. A ribbon now tied to the edge of my mortarboard which will frame the face I will bravely turn to the future — however bright and immeasurable that it may be.
Jessai Flores is a graduating senior in Davenport College. He previously edited the News’ illustrations desk.