FRANK’S VIEW: Navy Seal learns life lessons from ‘snowflakes’ at Yale

Frank Carrano

There’s an essay posted online called “My Semester With The Snowflakes,” written by James Hatch, who, at age 52, was admitted as a freshman at Yale University after a career in the military.

He was recently interviewed on NPR, link here: To find the original essay, it is easier to search for the essay using the title, as the original links are broken, according to comments made online.

In the essay, Hatch shares his journey with the reader as he embarked on this unexpected phase of his life.

He tells us that he went into the university setting filled with preconceived notions about the people he expected to encounter.

After all, he had been a Navy Seal, member of an elite, highly-trained and dedicated core of men and women who prided themselves on their skill and held themselves to the highest standards. They demanded excellence and got excellence in return; everyone was at the top of their game.

Yale, on the other hand, seemed to him to be a place inhabited by snowflakes. According to the Urban Dictionary, a “snowflake” is a “term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. People who lived life in a rarified atmosphere devoid of real life experiences and segregated from the ordinary people who inhabit most of the earth.”

After all, isn’t Yale the place where one of the admission scandals took place? Aren’t Yale students always protesting the things they don’t like about the country and the world. Where’s the discipline here, he asked?

But, as with most situations that are founded on presumptions and are ill informed, the reality begins to emerge and can be far different from what you expect.

Hatch, in spite of himself, began to realize that these ‘snowflakes’ weren’t snowflakes at all, but rather a group of serious, smart, hard-working young people, dedicated and supportive of each other, and of him. Not too unlike the Seals that he had grown to admire over the course of his career in the Navy.

The students both inspired him and supported him in his efforts to reach the standards that they set for themselves. He learned so much more than the course content, he learned to think deeply about a situation, to listen even when you want to not listen, and to respect other opinions and ideas.

In Hatch’s own words:

“I’d like to count this as my first brick in attempting to build a bridge between the people here at Yale and those like me before I arrived here. We need everyone who gives a damn about this American experiment to contribute and make it succeed. We humans have much more in common than we have different. Thanks Yale, for helping me to become an aspiring bridge-builder at the age of 52.”

So what are the lessons for us all that can be drawn from his experiences? Perhaps, to be less judgmental, or to be more open minded in situations where you disagree with the person making a new argument. Perhaps to even be willing to learn new things when you thought you had learned all that you need to know. Respect for differences, looking for those things that bring us together, finding common ground over which we can share goals. Younger and older finding the life thread that is truly inter-generational.

In some ways, life itself is like the university, there are lessons to be learned all around us each and every day. There are great teachers who offer examples of important life lessons; we just need to recognize them. There are, of course, opportunities to change our mind about something; there are opportunities to rescue what we thought was a lost personal relationship by being open minded.

Hatch, and his experience at Yale, give us much to ponder about how to make the word a better place.

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Connecticut Media Group