By: Josh Leichter  | 

Death of an Undergraduate

I recently found myself among friends reminiscing about my time at YU. See, I began my journey at Yeshiva University three and a half years ago, arriving at a pivotal time not only for myself but for the university as well. That year, 2017, saw the inauguration of President Berman and with it a new era was ushered in at YU. I remember prior to the investiture ceremony, at the start of the orientation week, when incoming-President Berman made his rounds in the cafeteria and introduced himself to the incoming classes of students. He sat at my table and conversed with us on how we felt to start this next stage of life and our academic experiences prior to arriving in that brightly lit dining hall. I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation, yet I do remember not knowing who he was, assuming he was just another one of the rabbis that was getting to know the students. It was only a few weeks later that I put two and two together and understood who he was and the role he had just begun to undertake.

As I think back on my time at YU, I find it interesting that in a way, the role of the President and that of the Student are not so drastically different from one another. While the gravity of the positions certainly cannot be further apart, when broken down, it becomes obvious that there are similarities between each job. Both the President and the Student must learn to listen to others, the President to better understand the needs of the institution he represents, and the Student ought to pay attention to succeed in their courses. In a similar vein, the President and the Student must understand that they are in a position to make great change in the long run, whether by meeting with donors who can ensure the long term financial security of the university or by partaking in clubs and initiatives that promote positive change for student representation and life. To simplify it further, both must know when to let their environments mold them and when to mold their environments. It is a constant game of give-and-take, all with a singular purpose, to improve themselves and those around them.

In these three and a half years at YU, this is a question I have constantly asked myself: How have I tried to work towards making the university a better place, and in what ways have I become a more complete person from my time here? It is easy to look at the clubs that I was involved with as a measurement of success or improvement, yet scrolling through the pages of time it becomes painfully clear that few of them are still active. What has always stood out to me are the hours that I spent attempting to crack the code of making a club have a lasting impact but ultimately having them devolve into nothing more than vain attempts at passion projects. I can think back to the conversations I had with people about various ideas that were floating around, ideas I thought were good but ultimately lacked that extra edge to really stick. It was like using old tape to hang a poster to a wall and hoping it wouldn’t fall off. At some point, I ought to have learned to cut a new piece from a new roll, that maybe if I would have worked harder it would have had more staying power. Yet not all clubs are meant to last and events tend to be forgotten when we walk out of the room and move on with our lives. This is not to say that there aren’t club events that matter — there certainly are — however there are also the ones that you go to for a nice chill and then forget, like we do with many things.

In all this time, it isn’t as though I didn’t try; but perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. I ran for five different student council positions and came up empty each time. Sure, there were different factors that played their part, from a lack of posters to a candidate debate performance that probably resulted in me losing a large bloc of votes I never would have won in the first place, but I would still make the same decisions I made then. With every loss, I learned that it is not about how many votes I lost by — records show that it was often by a large number — but that at least some students actually thought my positions were worth voting for. On this note, it is as many students who were more successful at playing the game of school-level politics told me: It’s not necessarily about what the poster says or how many you put up, but ultimately about who you know and how you get them to rally for you. Yet it’s also easy to look back at each semester and pinpoint what was going on at every point in my life and how that took up much of my time. Much of it was wasted, of course, yet even in those long hours I still had the opportunity to grow. With every unpublished article, unsuccessful event or short-lived interaction, I still carved out the time to get to know and collaborate with both like-minded and different students who wound up becoming close friends, not by providing an echo chamber but by challenging me on certain positions and giving me the opportunities I desperately needed to refine myself. With every verbal sparring match, debate or casual conversation over the phone, in person at the library or over text, I was able to research and polish my arguments or even learn something that helped me learn a new way of approaching a subject. It was never about being right, as good as that felt, more so than it was a chance to better see the world around me. It was never about leaving parts of myself behind but understanding who I was as a person and who I wanted to be.

And maybe that’s the whole point of college, at least that is how it’s marketed to us. It’s not only about learning from a textbook or in a classroom; sometimes the most important lessons are the ones we have outside and off-campus. That when we succumb to our self-destructive instincts, we are still able to look at ourselves as more than the mistakes we made, and on the flipside, when we accomplish something great, we are able to celebrate accordingly in a manner that is rightfully deserved. As part of life, we learn to live with our mistakes and our successes, knowing just why each one happened even if it takes months or years for us to fully appreciate everything that transpired during those times. 

Now, as I reach the end of this final article, this swan song to try to capture all three and a half beautiful years, I’m at a loss for words, wasting each precious minute scrambling to cobble together some kind of meaning of what this time has meant. And I can look through the pictures from when I first arrived until now or pour over everything I’ve written and said, yet I draw blanks. No matter how I put it together, I feel like I could have done so much more. Every aforementioned idea that I never took action on, from something benign like wanting to start my own WYUR show with a friend to other, more major, activities like writing more for The Commentator at an earlier time or creating more clubs on campus, will be left now to rot and decay until they are finally forgotten.

I look now to the audience as the lights go dark on the stage, a single spotlight that I tried to avoid yet craved all the same begins to turn off at last. I’m left with what I deem a paltry bag of on-campus accomplishments that will ultimately be ignored as those that knew me, really knew me, eventually graduate. Maybe that’s okay, I think, as I look to the wings and see everyone who was with me as I ventured out on this grand experiment. Those that I speak to now and those that broke away and took different paths are now waiting for me to finally join them. And maybe I no longer need the applause or adulations — it never did me any good either way, especially now in a semester that feels more like an epilogue to a story I began writing years ago. So as those curtains close on the stage, simply and silently, I take my final bow and wait to disappear into the empty crowd as just another student to pass these parts.

That’s it.