Seniors currently have more free time on their hands than at any other point during their college career. Most are done with the job hunt and know where they are going to be after graduation. Extracurricular responsibilities have typically subsided after junior year. Departmental requirements and senior theses are finishing up too.
What I want to ask those about to graduate is this: How will you make the most of your newfound freedom? Traditionally, seniors have always thrown themselves a bombastic score of parties as the answer to this interlude. Graduation is an ending, and endings call for celebrating the only way our generation knows how: with lots of sensory stimuli and not enough personal space, a fleeting escape from abiding truths.
As a freshmen counselor, I was in the dorm on call in the case of an emergency a majority of these parties. And it really wasn't so bad. Knowing that I would be spending many of my nights in, I decided to audit a Russian Literature class. I read War & Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime & Punishment and Brothers Karamazov in my final semester of college. Reading such beautiful prose and engrossing stories provided me with a deep feeling of satisfaction as I ended my time as an undergraduate.
And yet, even though I went above and beyond to make the most out of my university's resources and opportunities, just as I thought I should have when I first arrived, this didn't seem like it was enough to fulfill a larger underlying desire for a sense of purpose. I sometimes found myself wondering whether the indulgence of literature and knowledge was any different from the indulgence of alcohol. Any less utility-driven.
As an aspiring physician who has spent time shadowing terminal cancer patients, I've seen my fair share of endings. The patients and the families I've met at the hospital are looking for very different things. They crave the simple pleasures -- companionship, comfort, love. They resist the idea of being drugged. Their eyes are open. They want to engage with the world. Perhaps most importantly, they think about the legacy they want to leave behind.
And in many ways, I now feel the same way. As I stand poised to graduate again this May, I want to believe, more than anything, that my cumulative time at Yale has meant something, that I didn't come and go for nothing.
By remaining in New Haven another year during my Masters program, I have been able to witness my former freshmen grow up. That growth is a privilege to witness. I am seeing a side of them that I could only gain glimpses of last year. Ironically, though I am no longer their official counselor in designation, I've become even more committed to providing mentorship to underclassmen who seek it. And even though I do not have an official thesis to write this year, I've become more committed to engage in local projects in my community. In this way, the knowledge and wisdom I've accumulated through my own struggles are not in vain. When I finally leave New Haven, I hope to have left a mark in some way.
One does not have to have an official title to leave a legacy onto others. There are countless volunteering options in any community and opportunities to mentor others. If seniors across the country could collectively contribute towards these service projects, the impact would be extensive and significant. Beyond the individual lives that would be improved by these acts of service, seniors would send an important message to younger and future classes about responsibility, purpose and living well in the face of an imminent conclusion. What if we celebrated those who performed public service and made an impact on their community over those who partied the most? These folks should be the real all-stars.
All of us know how many days we have left before the date we graduate and leave our campuses behind. In that sense, we are lucky. The dying don't know when their time is up. It's more difficult for them to plan because they can't predict a timeframe for that plan. A week? A month? A year? Each unveils a different set of possibilities.
But for us, commencement is an absolute certainty. All we need is the courage to act on the truth we find before us.