The Incomplete Yale-NUS Story
Story by| Yogesh Tulsi, Contributing Writer
For the past three years, I have been part of Yale-NUS Screentests, and one of my favorite events has been filming seniors in the week leading up to graduation. In these videos, I ask seniors to reflect on their time here, the life-changing moments they’ve experienced, and the memories they’ve made. In the editing room, I pull out clips from various seniors’ stories to form a coherent narrative of growth, change, and experience, in the hopes that the graduation video will serve as a record of the lives that have walked through these halls and the stories these buildings have been witness to.
When I filmed seniors over the weekend of April 3 and 4, 2020, I had no idea until halfway through April 3 that this was our last weekend. As we were scrambling to say our last goodbyes and move out amid the installation of Singapore’s circuit breaker, I had to suddenly ask seniors to reflect on the entirety of their time, something that caught both my interviewees and I off-guard. The first few interviewees talked about how interesting it was that we were filming this in the middle of capstone period. As the news hit, the demeanor of the videos drastically changed, as people started streaming in tipsy, upset, or simply in a state of shock. There was suddenly a pressure to reflect on four years all at once, a pressure none of us had expected to hit so quickly.
The narratives of change depicted in traditional graduation videos, as well as in the Screentest videos, resemble the arc of the coming-of-age novel, or the bildungsroman. In the bildungsroman, a central protagonist undergoes dramatic change and maturation, frequently as through formal or informal education. In the Graduation Screentest, Yale-NUS College is inevitably the trigger for these stories. In fact, much of our school’s marketing depends on the production of “the Yale-NUS story.” You know the one—a student comes in wanting to major in Physical Sciences, but has their life changed by Philosophy and Political Thought 2 and becomes a Philosophy major. Someone goes on a semester abroad and becomes a committed environmentalist. Someone joins a club that sets them on a completely different career trajectory than what they imagined.
Early in my senior year, I too began fretting about my Yale-NUS story. In what ways was my life ultimately changed by my time here? I spent a lot of senior year pondering over this—what were my life changing experiences? Which moments will I say irrevocably changed me? I struggled to see a clear arc, which led to a deep insecurity that perhaps I hadn’t lived as vibrantly as I could have while I was here. Did I not take any risks? Or was it simply that many of my perspectives were solidified earlier in my life? That sense of insecurity led me to chase after some imagined culmination, be it trying to leave a legacy through the clubs I had led or posting Instagram posts about the things I had done.
Whatever my Yale-NUS story was, it was cut short by COVID-19. There were things I had planned for “after capstone”: lunches with people I had grown apart from, gatherings I wanted to attend, community spaces I wanted to organize. Final moments to wrap up the story of the past four years with. But as capstone got pushed back and social opportunities became more and more restricted leading up to the announcement of the circuit breaker, “after capstone” seemed to fade further and further into a mythical moment in time—until it disappeared completely. The sense that had been building in me over the year—that perhaps I hadn’t made use of my time here as fully as I could have—suddenly came crashing back over me. This was it, I thought. It felt as though I had to make those memories right now, because I had wasted too much of my college life not making full use of all the resources here.
The Class of 2020 will never get an “after capstone.” The final months of our college career will always be incomplete, and no post-graduation reunion or Zoom hangout will capture what I personally imagine “after capstone” would have been like, a pause from the grind of college life before we were sent hurtling out into the world. Nothing captures that sense of the mythical “after capstone” period that has crystallized in my mind than the Instagram page, “yncfullhouse”, which I dearly recommend to the reader. It picturizes what various seniors imagined the post-capstone period to be like, and it truly resonates with me.
To let go of those imagined weeks has been difficult. There was a sense that those weeks would have been the best of my college life, as I methodically closed the door on the various elements of my time here. Maybe I would have connected the dots of my Yale-NUS story within those final weeks. Instead, I now reckon with how none of this was truly owed to me—a closure for my time in college, or a clear story of change and growth. Perhaps I haven’t changed in radical ways but in small ways that will be perceptible to me down the line, or perceptible to the people who knew me from before. Or perhaps I have changed in radical ways, but these changes will only be visible to me in a few years.
I don’t know if I’ll have a story as coherent as those I present in the Screentests I have edited over the years. As I sat to work on editing the Graduation Screentest, that pressure to narrativize my life had never felt more real. Much work has since gone into tightening, editing, and omitting, and I imagine as the years pass, I will do that work when reflecting on my time here. Having suddenly found myself on the last pages of my Yale-NUS journey, I have learnt to be content with the fact that it’s okay to not be able to see a perfect Yale-NUS story yet. Maybe, like the postcolonial and feminist criticism of the bildungsroman points out, the story of upward change and individual maturation is a dangerous fiction that belies the complexity of our lives. Perhaps it is okay to simply acknowledge that I had a good time here, made good memories, learnt important lessons about myself, and developed some nice skills, without having to fit that into a clean narrative arc.