This semester, I’m taking “Life Worth Living”– the famous Yale class that you just have to take before graduating. Week to week, I’m reading about religions, traditions, and philosophies that I have never considered before and trying to find ways to apply them to my own life.
But now, I’m grappling with the fact that the whole thing is inherently selfish.
The new unit we delved into last week is about Yale. What does Yale endorse as the “good life?” How do we achieve it as Yale students and as a part of this larger Yale community? How do we make the most of our “bright college years” and all those to come?
One of the required readings was Yale President Peter Salovey’s “Repair the World!” speech, given at the commencement for the class of 2015. A particular line stuck with me from that speech. He says, “your purpose in life as a graduate from Yale is simply this: improve the world.”
Sending off a class of bright and hopeful graduates into society with the final words “improve the world,” seems innocent enough. But, after I read this speech I began thinking why the same sentiment couldn’t be given to any class at any point during their Yale career. The idea that only after graduating from Yale, your newfound purpose is to “improve the world,” seemed alarming, yet accurate.
Let me explain.
I have no idea what I want to do after graduation. I have no concrete plans. I want to do so much, that I have decided on nothing at all. All I have right now are interests and the voice of my parents in the back of my head telling me I’ll make a great lawyer. When people ask me what I plan to do with a degree in English, I smile and say, “I don’t know.” And the usual response is, “Don’t worry. You have time.”
The fact that I have time to figure out what I want to do is the biggest and most undervalued privilege that Yale and college in general provides.
The cliché goes that college is the best four years of your life. The parties and freedom are enticing, feeling as if you one day have the ability to own the world with the knowledge and experience that piles up on your doorstep. I would argue that college is the best four years of your life, but for a different reason.
College is the best four years of your life, because they are the most selfish four years of your life.
What a blessing it is to think only of myself for four years. What a blessing to discover who I am and what I want to accomplish amidst a bubble of people who are doing exactly the same thing. What a blessing to put off the real world and its responsibilities only to revel in the youth and happenings of all that surrounds me. What a blessing to think about improving the world only when I choose to enter it.
The very fact that I’m taking a class that teaches about the “good life” instead of going out and living the “good life” seems ridiculous when I think about it. Yet, I’m enjoying every second of it, and I’m incredibly happy to be in that course. I’m incredibly happy to be in all of my courses.
Opportunities that most people could only dream of are planted at my feet on a daily basis. I get to read about the topics that interest me and write about whatever I want whenever I want and it gets published. I get to run competitively and practice the sport I love with likeminded teammates. I live steps away from my best friends and have discourse with brilliant and informed faculty and peers. It’s as if it’s all the stuff of fiction. Because when I take a step back from the stress and looming assignments, everything about my life in the present moment is working in my favor.
I’ve been thinking about how to rectify this egocentric guilt I’ve been feeling about being absolutely in love with Yale and my college years. And the truth is, I can’t.
So, I think that I must bask in the selfishness of my life as it exists right now. I must bathe in the inexperience of adolescence that college and my early 20s provide. I must rejoice in gratitude at the very mention of Yale or college, because this experience is not universal. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; these four years are limited and specific. It’s as if the entire world pauses, takes a breath, and says, “Don’t worry. You have time.”