05/23/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2014

As You Graduate, Reclaim College As Your Own


Each time I walk by the swing in Yale's most beautiful courtyard, I think of this one morning near the end of my sophomore fall. I'd just entered a "thing" -- not a relationship, not a lifelong bond, but a "thing." There were no illusions: This "thing" would not last forever. I knew the person I was seeing annoyed me in many, many many ways. But sitting on that swing thinking about our time together, I felt inordinately, ridiculously happy. Life was working out: There was someone I could stand for more than one evening, someone with whom I shared vibes and sparks and laughs. Sitting on the swing, I called a friend from home to chat about it. I was positively bubbly.

I don't really think of myself as bubbly. But each time I see that swing, I remember the giddy, effervescent happiness I felt at 9 a.m, a long, restless night behind me, a breakfast date ahead, and nary a dark cloud in New Haven's December skies.

My last week on campus, I walked by that swing on purpose a lot.

Here's how I did senior week: I revisited sites that mattered to me. It was hard. Nearly every spot has some kind of memory attached to it -- I doubt that I'll ever be able to cover them all. Still, I trudged up Science Hill to sit near the observatory and remember my birthday picnic freshman year, an afternoon of friends and chili-infused dark chocolate. I walked past my gross freshman dorm with one of my oldest buds to talk about nights that wound down to us teetering on the steps, cheap vodka on our breath. We laughed about a desperate candy store run in the midst of a snow-storm and the moment she fell over. For a second, I thought I'd lost her: She's about 5'2" and the snow was rising. It's okay: We didn't lose each other. We don't plan to.

Of course, thinking about personally important moments wasn't what I was supposed to be doing right then. There's a cultural script for how a senior class at mine or any other school is meant to behave right at the end. We're strongly encouraged to follow it. It's made up of many parts, this dominant and dominating script. It's every senior event we're meant to attend, every person who's a bit shocked we're not drunk to the brink of vomiting at the bar each night. It's what we all tell ourselves people are doing. In the telling, we lose our own agency: because they're doing it, the logic tells us, we must too. Hurry, hurry, drink up, and then pout for that insta.

I call B.S.

Let's take back our time and our imaginations. Let's define the perfect ending to college on our own terms. We're certainly obligated to do some of the massive, over-crowded events. I know the pain of social obligation: During that week and graduation, I was struggling and juggling my various commitments and friendships just like you, and I wish, sometimes, that I didn't have to. Here's the beautiful thing: I realized that I didn't have to. Those few days were mine. If you're still in school, they are yours. They exist to be used in ways that make sense to each of us, individually. This is the end of college for the entire Class of 2014, sure. But it's also the end of a big, scary four years for you.

For me, marking that end meant recognizing, quite literally, the markers of my journey to it. Beyond the neatly packaged dinner-conversation descriptions of how Yale changed me, I wanted to reconnect with the very real, very physical signs of what I -- what of all us -- have gone through. For places matter a great deal. They are often, though not always, constants. So while that swing in the courtyard belonged to the "thing" that went wrong just as much as it does to my nostalgia for my time at Yale, revisiting it meant claiming that site and the rest for a new version of myself. That was, is, a self ready to graduate with the burden of memory on his back, grateful for what each victory and defeat taught him. I located my farewells in those tiny moments I could remember, those ones that are, and that remain, all mine.

So screw the script. I molded my memories as I saw fit. During senior week, that meant finding significance in the places here that mattered to me. In the future, it'll mean visiting those places and moments again, with friends or on my own. Each time I do, I'll be thinking about college as not just shiny and institutional and remarkable -- I'll think of it as mine. Here, then, is what I hope each member of the senior class of 2014 can identify and treasure: their own version of their bright college years.