Andrew Pessin is a philosophy professor who has also published four novels. His most recent, Bright College Years” takes place at Yale during the 80s. He has lived in more places than he can remember, prone to dabbling in dilettantism. He might have become a musician if he could sing better, but as it is he has written many half-decent songs that are in search of a talented musician to cover them. He has used up some 12 of his minutes of fame appearing as “The Genius” on the former David Letterman show. For more information about him and his work, visit his website

Andrew recently took the time to reflect on some of the perks of being a member of the Carillon Guild, hanging out at the Pierson Dining Hall with friends, and how the lessons he learned at Yale have shaped both his personal and professional life. 

Why Yale? 
As a philosopher, I’m supposed to be able to put into words what goes without saying, but that’s hard here: The first moment I stepped foot on campus as a high school senior I knew this was the place for me. Why? It felt right, it looked right. I remember it was a dreary drizzly day, the place fit the dreary drizzly part of my personality perfectly, and if it fit that, it would fit all of me. Other campuses were obviously beautiful and impressive, but this campus just felt like home.

What is your most enduring memory of your time at Yale? 
That’s like asking which is your favorite child among your several children, except here there are hundreds of siblings to pick from! How about this: the many long hours sitting in the Pierson Dining Hall talking, arguing, joking, bantering, once or twice food-fighting, with the gang of friends who would become my lifelong friends. Or this one: playing Beatles or Grateful Dead tunes on the carillon as a member of the Carillon Guild, inflicting my musical preferences on the entire community. Or this one: releasing greased piglets on the field at halftime of the 100th anniversary of The Game for maybe the greatest prank in all history. Or this one …

What is the biggest lesson you learned during your time at Yale and how does that shape who you are today?
This one may be a little corny, but not for nothing my wife does call me the King of Corny. (Actually, she doesn’t, but the fictional wife of the main character in my new novel calls him that.) Resilience: I can handle anything. Well, almost anything. Yale, college, and life, are not all fun and games, and there were some serious challenges along the way, academic, financial, personal—and somehow I got through them all. Another competing memory: Junior year when my life was falling apart and I was taking way too many classes I went to my college dean to ask for an extension on one term paper because it would be just impossible for me to do it. She flatly said no. I hated her in that moment. But then I parked myself in the library for three or four days and got the thing done. I learned that what seems impossible may not always be so. If she’s reading this—I’m sorry I called you names at the time. And thank you.

How did your time at Yale shape your identity?
That’s exactly what my new novel, “Bright College Years,” is about! Hard to condense 300 pages into a few sentences but here goes: A place like Yale confronts you with innumerable diverse identities, you interact with so many kinds of people and opportunities, and if you are open to them you learn from them, you try things on for a while and see how they fit, you acquire things, you lose things, you become the person you are now going to be for at least the next two or three decades. The novel itself more or less ends (minor spoiler alert!) with the main character becoming the adult he is going to be.

What does belonging mean to you and how did you find a sense of belonging at Yale and after?
See the answers above about the gang’s long hours at the dining hall… turning into the lifelong friendships … plus the sense of belonging to that larger Yale community that you carry with you wherever you go in life, which often starts with checking in with the local Yale Alumni club--not to mention the regular letters from Mother Yale reminding you how much she meant to you with suggested amounts to contribute … If that’s not belonging, what is!

How have you stayed engaged with the Yale community since graduating?
First and foremost with my gang, stayed in regular touch – even back in those primitive days in the 80s and 90s when there was no internet and there were no cell phones. (How DID we stay in touch, now that I think about it? Did we like, write letters?) I’ve been to most of my reunions, which is a wonderful way to stay connected with the larger circles of friends, always noting how remarkable it was that despite perhaps not having seen them since the previous reunion we are capable of more or less picking right up where we left off. At some periods I’ve been very involved with my local alumni clubs, and did alumni interviews for several years. And of course, I read the Yale Alumni Magazine cover to cover every month and in these miracle days of science fiction I follow Yale on every form of social media. (I still read the Yale Daily News regularly, online! Makes you feel like you are still there.)

What advice do you wish you heard during your time at Yale?
Maybe the “probably not a good idea to have a food fight” advice. Odd that it did seem to be a good idea at the time – I no longer can relate to that person, thankfully. 

What were your favorite spaces at Yale or in New Haven? Why?
The Pierson Dining Hall – see above. And Harkness Tower: as a carillonneur I had the keys and loved being in the tower, and on top of the tower, enjoying either the occasional party (I mean gathering) I would have for the gang up there or simply meditating on perhaps the most awesome view on or of campus. Or the Pierson Gateway—so many late afternoons or late evenings making our way home through that magnificent walkway ….

What aspects of Yale do you feel like you talk about most often to people who didn’t go to school here? Why?
Pretty much all the above. Starting with the campus itself, the architecture, the spaces, the whole atmosphere. Then moving on to all the incredible people you will meet, the diversity of people, backgrounds, identities, perspectives. And almost invariably concluding with the remarkable lifelong friends you will make …. (That and a good education too.)

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And be sure to check out all the Q&As in the series by visiting our Getting to Know You page.

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