The Wisdom of the Elders, or Goodbye to All That
A distinct sense of sadness pervades me as I write these words, as I reflect on the fact that this will most likely be the last article I contribute to this newspaper. Actually, this past week was filled with last times and endings for me. My last class with a certain professor, unfortunately. My last class of a certain core, very, very fortunately. My last caf card dollar, a bit premature, honestly. My last attempt at using YU printing (no comment). The list goes on and on. Endings are tough, especially when the past has been so wonderful and kind to me, while the future brings dreaded change and uncertainty. Endings are tough, especially when the future is unclear, and the past reaches out and beckons with its comfortable, warm hands.
Graduating brings with it a whole host of emotions. Writing an article about it brings a whole slew of others. What is to be my legacy? What am I to leave upon this institution where I have spent three of the most formative years of my life? What are my hopes for the future for myself? What are my hopes for Yeshiva University? What do I regret? What would I have done differently, and what advice would I give myself as a young, inexperienced freshman? Is it presumptuous of me to write an article? What do I have to say that is unique or worthwhile, anyway?
As I think about the tumultuous period of my arrival at YU after ardently and arrogantly refusing to apply here, I think of YU as my saving grace. It still is, in a certain regard. I can’t walk in to the Office of Admissions without reflecting upon how gracious and welcoming they were to a student who was lost and looking for a new beginning. (On the other hand, the Office of the Registrar took some getting used to). Here was a place where I could fit right in, where people understood me. Here I was amongst family, and here, I could be who I wanted to be.
I think about my very first day of class that afternoon, where I was so unprepared that I didn’t even have a notebook or a pen. I think about my classmates who helped me out, and about my professors who were willing to sit down with me in their offices to catch me up and help me with my schoolwork. I think about the deans and the guidance counselors who suggested classes for me and assisted me in selecting a major and a focus that would be stimulating and fulfilling. I think about the friends who introduced themselves, who offered me advice and suggestions, who invited me and pestered me and entertained me and, perhaps subconsciously, made me into a YU guy that day.
I think about going to davening the following morning, and looking around the room in awe of the young men and women who are serious and committed to their Judaism and to their worship of G-d. I think about going to shiur and appreciating the dedication that students here have made to studying Jewish texts and to the continuation of Jewish tradition. Later, I think about having off for Chagim, and about being able to finish class early enough on Fridays so as to not worry about being late for Shabbat. I think about having kosher food at events and about being surrounded by people who come from similar backgrounds as me and can appreciate and embrace all sides of my identity and character. I think about not having to explain myself, about not having to fit in and be someone who I’m not.
I think back also to how much I’ve changed since then. How I’ve tried to become a better person, one who is less shallow and more genuine. I think about the self-confidence that this school has given me, about the education I’ve received and about the wisdom I’ve gained from my peers and my professors. I think about the values and ideals that have been instilled in me, about the strong convictions that I’ve developed and about the opinions I’ve honed and sharpened. I think about the wealth of experiences I’ve had and about the opportunities I’ve been involved in, including this newspaper. I think about how extraordinarily proud I am to have spent three years of my life in such an incredible institution. I think about how grateful I am to my fellow students and to my rabbis, professors, and administrators for making this institution what it is.
I think about how about how many times I’ve used the word ‘I’ in this article, and about the number of sentences I’ve started with “I think”. I think about the new students who have arrived on campus as part of the post-Pesach program, and about the new ones who will start in the fall. I think about the students who’ve just finished their first year here, and are wondering about next year. I think that it’s high time that I turn to you, dear students.
As mentioned, graduation is a time of reflection, a time of quiet contemplation and looking back. It is, fundamentally, a time of thinking about how we’ve grown and developed, and about how fortunate we are to have had the experiences that we had. Graduation is about imparting our own advice, after receiving advice from our predecessors in previous years. So, to current students, here’s what I’ve got: You have the fortune of studying in the best university in the entire world. I say this not in jest, nor in a patronizing manner. Believe it, and appreciate it. You can, and will, make friends for life here. Unbelievable things will happen to you, both in the good sense and in the bad. You’ll read a book or an article and be transfixed, your mind will be blown and you’ll spend a few hours wondering what else you thought you knew but so clearly didn’t. You’ll sit in classes that will be transformative and enlightening, and in ones that will be super boring or where the workload is so tough that you’ll be convinced that you’ll have no time for anything else. You’ll get that rush from finishing a paper three minutes before it’s due. (This is not a good idea. This is really not a good idea). You’ll hear from world-renowned speakers and Jewish leaders, from influential graduates and mostly well-intentioned politicians. You’ll probably network with important contacts in your field, and make friends with your job competition. You’ll get wonderful advice from some people, and terrible advice from others. You’ll probably end up eating four slices of pizza in one sitting, and stuffing yourself at a barbecue an hour after a Carlos and Gabby’s lunch. (Again, not a good idea).
The day will come when the bureaucracy will get to you, when you will be assured by someone that you are completely right but that there is nothing to be done. The day will come when you say that you hate YU, and that you wish you could be ‘anywhere but here’. You’ll go visit friends in other colleges and come back depressed, wondering why our campus is anchored by the lovely Amsterdam Avenue. You’ll wonder why we have so few classes, and why our facilities are so much worse than everyone else’s. Don’t sweat it.
Ask yourself what you should be doing now. Make a schedule, and stick to it. Don’t keep going for the easy A’s, and don’t post on Facebook that you are looking only for easy A’s. You’re here for an education, not for a grade. Don’t show up late to class. Don’t ask questions in class or be argumentative purely to hear the sound of your voice. People will hate you for it. But do fight to the ground for something you believe in. Don’t do all of your reading assignments. If you have time for that and for everything else, you’re clearly not involved enough on campus. Do get involved in more extracurriculars than you should humanly be able to handle. Offer to help out whenever you can. Talk to people in elevators, and don’t avoid making eye contact. Say hello to people you’re in class with, and remember their names for next semester. Don’t underestimate the value of hanging out with friends, and of relaxing and chilling. Do underestimate the value of watching three seasons of House of Cards in a week. Oh, and don’t write articles that have no substance. Whoops.
Some of this advice can apply to life as well, if you’re graduating. If you are, well…congrats. You finally made it. And can you give me some help?