The piece below was written by Marie Colvin ’78 for the special issue of the Yale Daily News handed out at Commencement 1978.
The most memorable event of my Yale career occurred in the dining hall. At Silliman lunch last week, I was eating and commiserating with a group of fellow seniors, slaphappy at the thought of all the work to be done in the last week of term. Everyone had a how-to story, the kind that only circulates at finals time, like the one about the student who handed in a bluebook with “IV” written on the cover, inscribed with one sentence on the first page: “and that’s the way it was in seventeenth century England,” and received a final grade of “B” from some T.A.; talk about surefire dean’s excuses and where to catch a quick 24-hour bug, always good for a night at DUH.
At a pause in the conversation, during which I flashed on the twelve pages per day I’d have to write for the next week, a friend next to me sighed and said profoundly, “There’s just not enough time.” It came out of the blue, but it was the most relevant non-sequitur ever uttered.
It sums up my Yale career. I’ve spent the last weeks of every semester holed up in the Sillibrary, coffeepot by my side, moving from one stack of books and clutter of papers to the next like a guest at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The last week of my senior year I was there again, drinking coffee by the pot, sleeping two hours nightly, marshaling enough credits to graduate.
That’s why I wasn’t a varsity athlete, or an editor of the Oldest College Daily, why every room I’ve ever lived in has been almost furnished. It’s why my papers come back marked “good potential, inadequately realized.” And it’s why I can’t tell you what it feels like to be finished with Yale, whether it’s euphoric or just anti-climatic, because I’m not, and by the time I am everyone will have left and I won’t even be able to ask anyone.
It takes everybody but the football team four years to realize that there is no way to do the work expected of you, that teachers and deans don’t really expect you to do it all and that the real test of intelligence is to do the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward. The football team somehow learns freshman year what it takes everyone else three years (it took me four). The most important things to look for when choosing a course are not relevancy to future career, interesting subject, or something you should know. Number of papers and pages per paper, number of exams, and Course Critique grade point spread are all you need to look for. And if the football team shows up for the first lecture, you’ve chosen correctly.
The finer points of course selection involve arranging enough of a workload so that when you do go out to Rudy’s, Mory’s, or the Elizabethan Club for tea you can feel a twinge of guilt. And so that you can participate in end-of-semester-conversations.
The worst thing about graduating is that I can’t remember what I did all semester. I thought I was working, but that seems impossible. I’ve started promoting the theory that Yale is centered in a time warp. Time doesn’t just seem to pass twice as fast, it does. We have only one week to the universal two.
I haven’t accepted the fact that I am not going to do everything I kept putting off. I am not graduating Phi Beta Kappa, I don’t have 48 credits and 47 A’s, I will never read the bookcase of course books diligently bought in the Co-op, lined up neatly with their binders unwrinkled. I will not paint the fourth wall in my bedroom. I will probably never even find out the name of that curly-haired boy in my English seminar I’ve been flirting with all year.
It’s hard to say even what I’ve learned here. I don’t think I’ve finished adjusting yet. I have nothing striking to say about anything and it seems like I should. I’ve changed from a regular science major to a science major who only takes English courses (there was no time to change majors), learned about weenies, jocks, and turned-up collars, learned how to run, not fast but far enough to enjoy the sweat, learned how to do footnotes. Unlearned a lot too — like weenies and jocks don’t exist and that turned-up collar means zilch. And I’ve learned how ridiculous it is to try to convince people that you are serious about something, that you have a direction. Best of all, I missed all the deadlines — LSAT, GRE, scholarships, grants, and fellowships — not enough time — so I guess I’ll wake up Tuesday morning and start thinking about it. Or else just buy a plane ticket.
The one realization I have come to after four years is that I can still make all the mistakes I want and it doesn’t matter. I remind myself of this often, whenever I feel the “let’s get serious mood” coming on, or I lunch with law-business-medical school prospectives, or read an article about shopping bag ladies in the New York subway system. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with going to law-business-medical school, but enough people stick up for it, and that’s not the point anyway.
The point is that it doesn’t matter if you mess up, choose the wrong road, flop in Vegas. What’s important is to throw yourself in head first, to “go for the gusto.” And if you blow it, you blow it. What we have to worry about now is success. Once you’re successful, it becomes embarrassing to make mistakes, and more difficult to grab onto the nearest straw and hold on. You can always be a star, so what’s the rush?