The lost days

What the Class of 2020 can never get back.

Mark Rosenberg ’20, an American studies major, is a former editor of The New Journal.

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On warm spring afternoons, as the sun dipped toward the horizon, my friend Isaac was apt to text me two words: “GOLDEN HOUR.” Whenever I saw those words, I’d drop what I was doing, grab a frisbee, and meet Isaac on Old Campus. The light seeping through the leafy canopy was amber. Students sprawled across the grass, scrolling absentmindedly on their laptops as if it were possible to get any homework done in such a spectacular setting. Others abandoned the pretense. Spikeball games broke out; blankets were unfurled; trap music from a portable speaker echoed off the gothic facades. Isaac hurled the plastic disc across the expanse, and I weaved between tour groups and statues to chase it down.

As the light grew pink and the shadows lengthened, we were joined by a motley assortment of undergraduates, mostly barefoot. Friends and strangers strolled by, dodging our errant throws. Some of them dumped their backpacks on the ground and joined us. The Harkness bells played “All You Need Is Love” or the Mario theme song. Once the breeze picked up and the light dimmed, we’d pack it up and head to Ashley’s, where we each ordered a kiddie cup of the best ice cream in New Haven: coffee Oreo. (With all due respect to Arethusa, this is no longer up for debate.)

Every student has a favorite springtime ritual. The Golden Hour toss is mine. Others might opt for lounging in the Hopper courtyard hammocks, dancing at Spring Fling, ascending East Rock, or bodysurfing across the Women’s Table (don’t tell Maya Lin). As far as sunlit scenery goes, I think Old Campus is unbeatable, but there’s plenty of competition. The long shadow of the Roy Lichtenstein sculpture at the top of Hillhouse. The stained-glass frogs and hummingbirds in the windows of the Judaic Studies reading room. Payne Whitney’s monolithic exterior at sunset, glowing red.

It’s possible to construct a fairly convincing facsimile of college life even under coronavirus quarantine. Students and faculty are supporting one another as best they can, even as illness spreads, income evaporates, childcare is revoked, and uncertainty reigns. Seminars and lectures are proceeding apace, and I, at least, have been more attentive than usual under the relentless glare of Zoom’s digital panopticon. Essays are being written and theses submitted—some, shockingly, on time. Senior recitals and dance performances are taking place on Instagram. One evening, doing crossword puzzles and playing Pictionary over Zoom’s screen-share and whiteboard functions, I almost felt transported back to the plump white couch in my friend’s off-campus apartment.

Almost. No matter how quickly we adapt to these strange circumstances and reconstruct a community across borders and time zones, some things are impossible to transmit through fiber optic cables and 1080p conference calls. Too many performances and sporting events to count have been cancelled. The unchoreographed connections and conversations, in dining halls and courtyards, that dictated the ebb and flow of each day are impossible to replace. There will be no more Chicken Tender Thursdays, no Beyond Burgers or silver trays of vegan chicken Gardein for us pescatarians. No rooftop rendezvous, no all-nighters at GHeav, no Last Chance Dance, no mortarboards tossed skyward at Commencement. No handshakes and hugs, as long as we’re social distancing. I’ll miss plenty of things in the months to come, but nothing more so than the Golden Hour tosses with Isaac. In my mind, it’s the forsaken rituals, the frisbees flying through the air, the light at four in the afternoon, that will cast the longest shadows across Yale’s empty campus this spring.

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