Madeleine Lee

At Home At Yale

Madeleine Lee
At Home At Yale

By Canaan Harris, Yale '20

For the eighteen years before I came to Yale, I lived in the rural town of Belmont, Mississippi. Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia and boasting a population of just under 2,000 people, my town did not even have a stoplight, and was over two hours away from any city with more than 100,000 residents.

My high school, one of only two in the county, had seventy-three seniors, all but about five of which attended the same community college, where both the valedictorian and salutatorian of last year’s class also attended.

With the isolation and homogeneity of my community in mind, even applying to Yale, or any other highly selective college was essentially unheard of, and being accepted seemed completely out of reach.

But I got in to Yale, and it took one flight to visit the campus to know that Yale was where I wanted to spend my next four years of life. I didn't even visit any other college. Any words I use to describe my feelings after knowing with certainty that I would be attending would sound melodramatic, yet still fall short of describing my emotions. [what are some of those words]

Mixed in with my extreme excitement, however, was one reasonable fear: What if I don’t measure up?  After all, my high school didn’t even offer AP classes and my father got his pickup truck by trading some scrap metal. How could I hope to compete academically or socially in this elite group with the sons and daughters of Wall Street bankers and Ivy League professors?

Whatever anxiety I did have, however, was completely drowned out by my excitement at what I was about to experience. I came to Yale with a wholeheartedly optimistic spirit, expecting the best from the university. 

Thankfully, my experience here has proven my reservations to be unfounded. I have never felt disadvantaged for want of some skill not taught at my tiny high school.  And judging from my experiences with my classmates, the supposed elitism of the Ivies seems nearly eradicated by the influx of students from all backgrounds.  Yale is an incredibly diverse place, with a nearly uncountable multitude of religions, ethnicities, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds represented in its student body.  This is why I believe anyone from any background who is accepted at Yale can find a niche here, while still appreciating the diversity of the college as a whole.

This spring break, Yale sent me back home as a student ambassador to local high schools, giving me not only the bout of nostalgia I receive every time I come home, but also the opportunity to glimpse at the problems in my local high school system that I couldn’t see while within it.

Of the many students that came to listen to my presentations, very few seemed interested in applying. While surely many other factors have roles in deterring students from applying to Yale or other highly-selective colleges, I believe many may fear, like I did, that coming from an “inferior” educational or social standing would leave them with an insurmountable disadvantage at an institution like Yale. For this reason, I believe the most important lesson I can bring back to my community is that anyone can feel at home at Yale.