Story by| Vrinda Sood, Contributing Writer
Illustration by| Xie Yihui, Staff Editor
(Note: This writing is best read to the sound of Into the Unknown by Panic! At The Disco playing in the background.)
The last time I used my 2020 planner was on the second-last day of Brewhouse still being in operation. My best friends and I were sitting at the table that had, over the course of the semester, come to be informally reserved for seniors pouring over last-minute readings or trying to wake up after pulling their weekly all-nighter before capstone meetings.
I took my time writing down the single most important task as the semester—and my final year at college—was winding down: “write thank you notes.” Sure, by that point the world as we knew it was coming to an end, but it was arguably as good a time as any to count my blessings.
It was at Yale-NUS that I learnt to go beyond differentiating right from wrong, and even attempt to navigate all the space in between. It was here that I found out what I liked, and what I merely pretended to. It was here that I realized exactly how important, and difficult, radical honesty with oneself can be. At the end of it all, I can still remember the feeling on the last night of Experience Yale-NUS Weekend 2016, when I had been awake for 72 hours straight so as to not miss out on a second of excitement, standing on the bridge overlooking the Oculus, that I decided to come to Yale-NUS. The feeling that I could be a part of what then felt like a movement designed to create thinkers who could change the world, was—for the lack of a better word—infectious.
Fast forward to April 2020, as we stood by the Elm patio watching staff duct tape the chairs and tables. After the last few months, amidst emails of “unprecedented circumstances” and student resilience, having had our last two months and all the closure that comes with it ripped away from us, “change” now is anything but welcome.
I wake up from my afternoon nap to find my friends on a group chat talking about Oprah’s new speech in which she calls the Class of 2020 the “chosen ones.” We are the ones ushering in the new normal, reminiscent of the Admissions pamphlet to which I said yes four years ago. It’s at a point like this when the world is looking at us to create a new normal, when we have almost a responsibility to the generations of Yale-NUS students, not to mention the communities and nationalities we represent, to show them how adversity is weathered.
In some ways, it feels like, over the last four years, we were trained exactly for this. Letting go of some dreams in lieu of others, staying in touch with best friends over the internet for sometimes up to a year and reuniting stronger than ever. But when the world looks on waiting for us to belly-flop headfirst into the great unknown and make it up as we go, who wouldn’t want some predictability?
It’s hard to feel like a changemaker when you’re on the third consecutive hour of your Netflix binge. Moreover, amid resource caps far beyond the ones we had already factored into the pace of our growth, how can we, in good faith, still keep promising ourselves and the world that we will use this education the way it was meant to be used?
As we grew over the last four years, conversations with mentors and professors about next steps turned more and more practical. The rule of thumb—no matter how unique our education was, it turned out to be eerily similar to the one I thought I left behind when I came to Yale-NUS: “Do what you have to, till you can do what you want to.” It’s not hard to see that this rings true now more than ever. At a time where we’re struggling for normalcy and closure, embarking on a new adventure sounds exhausting.
The day my parents were supposed to fly into Singapore for my graduation, we had a family Zoom call instead. My mother asked me the usual—how much I was eating, whether I had enough masks, and, in a surprising turn of events: how I felt. It was strange admitting that I didn’t feel like I was heading towards the life I had always imagined for myself. She nodded and responded saying that for the next few months, or year, or two, we may do nothing more than just survive. And that’s okay.
This article was originally written in the immediate aftermath of our online graduation. At the time it felt surreal sitting in a room with people I found remarkable, graduating through a screen. My emotions ranged from upset and frustrated, to frightened, and finally to the familiar contentment of sitting around with a few friends drinking late into the night and talking about what was and what could have been. It felt a whole other kind of surreal moving off campus and into my first ever apartment. Even though the last few months of my YNC memory were perhaps not my best memory of it, leaving the physical space still felt like someone was pushing me off a boat and into the river.
Looking onto the next part of our lives was already scary for a million reasons. For the first time, we will not be told what to do. For the first time, we will not have an enforcer of right and wrong outside of just ourselves. Right now, I am surrounded by several newly-minted, incredible graduates whose life today is not what they thought it would be. For all our idle conversations over dining-hall brunches wondering what we’d be like as adults in the Real World, I have found that our aesthetic mostly consists of a split screen watching TV and reading the news, looking for ways to make this reality better both for the world and for ourselves, and angry-washing dishes we don’t even remember using.
In the brief moments of peace, when the world doesn’t seem so heavy and when the fatigue of anxious thoughts isn’t too bad, I remind myself to show up for those who matter, and thank those who showed up for me. Even as we’re making decisions that don’t line up with who we want to be, or thought we might be, even as we make another loaf of banana bread as a midnight snack, or as we finally settle into unfamiliar schedules, I hope we show up for each other, serving as constant reminders of what was, and what can be. I hope when we see each other, across offices on the opposite ends of countries, continents, or the CBD, we see each other as partners in hope, resilience, and having to take a slightly more scenic route to happiness, even if it takes a minute.