KEEGAN: Senior year without society

I am not in a secret society.

When I wasn’t tapped, I was pretty bummed. I wish I could say I was mature enough not to care, but I did. I was worried that I would be missing out on some fundamental Yale experience, that everyone would have new friends and, worst of all, that I was somehow subpar — that all my friends in societies (all my friends) were somehow more “accomplished” or “worth knowing.” It felt lame.

I guess I’m writing this op-ed for future people like me — people who for whatever reason slip through the cracks of the system. I’m writing to say: Don’t feel lame! I can’t speak for the society experience because I didn’t have it, but I can speak to the non-society experience, and the verdict is: It’s totally fine. It’s totally not a big deal. Seriously.

There are a lot of advantages to society, but it takes up a ton of time. Twelve hours a week for roughly 34 weeks amounts to over 400 hours. That’s a lot of hours! Society is one way to spend them, but there are certainly others.

Last semester I spent every Sunday and Thursday night writing the book for a musical that went up in December, and this semester, I travel to New York every Thursday for an internship. If I were in a society, I wouldn’t be able to have this job — as I usually get back around 10 p.m. And who knows if I would have had time to write the play last semester if I didn’t devote two nights a week to the project?

I’ve heard friends talk about how amazing society is — the bios, the parties, the dinners. But I’ve also heard friends complain about it — when society must take precedent over studying for a test or applying for jobs or spending time with other friends or roommates.

Junior spring, society is such a thing. Everyone everywhere seems to be talking about it and thinking about it and worrying about it. But when senior year rolls around, it fades into the background. No one really talks about it anymore. It doesn’t continue to take over everyone’s lives. (I promise.)

The real secret about secret societies is that they’re not a big deal. They’re a fun way to get to know people. To get free food. To socialize. To think. But they’re not the only — or even best — place to do that. I’ve had plenty of deep conversations, debates and drinks with (new!) friends this year, and I didn’t have a tomb inside which I could do so.

Every year, there are inevitably people who don’t end up in a society. And my only message to you is this: I’ve had a fantastic senior year without one. I did things I was proud of, made new relationships I will always treasure and had a little bit of extra time to do so. I’m not in a society, and I don’t think I’m a lame person — all of you juniors who don’t get tapped, please, please, please join the club.

Marina Keegan is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at


  • River_Tam

    A fascinatingly tragic part of the Yale experience is how many students arrive at senior year with few or no close friends. This is doubly true the more competitive “activities” you take part in – if you’re writing for the YDN or running for YCC, for instance. The secret society is an attempt by Yale seniors to manufacture close friends. Everything from the format of sharing one’s life story to the ridiculous rituals is intended to bring you closer and closer to your fellow society members.

    In other words, they’re frats for lonely seniors rather than confused freshmen.

    In 400 hours, you could easily write a full-length novel. Do that instead.

    • joematcha

      That’s an interesting thought. I’m not sure I see that since it’s been my experience that people at Yale in competitive activities develop close friendships with other people in those same activities, but I’d love to hear more anecdata on the subject.

    • piersonpiersoncollege

      So negative. Wow.

      Ritual can be odd, and the setup artificial, but this is true of many other organizations in life as well – say, the Girl Scouts, which I was happy to have been so involved with throughout my years before college. This is not to say that I don’t see the problems with the exclusive and arbitrary nature of the society system, but does everything have to be so doom and gloom? I think you missed the point of the article (which was lovely, by the way).

      And I don’t know by experience, but I imagine people make great friends through the fraternity system as well.

      • Justine

        Plenty of Yalies go on to lead successful, happy and productive lives without society membership. Yes, the networking helps in the real world. There are just limited slots for society spots. Of the est. 1,500 juniors, there are more opportunities to connect and network in other extracurriculars and in the classroom.

      • River_Tam

        > And I don’t know by experience, but I imagine people make great friends through the fraternity system as well.

        I know they do. But then, when you join a frat, you’re a freshman in search of an identity. You develop the friendships over four years. There’s no ritualized sitting around and talking about feelings for the purpose of bonding.

        > I think you missed the point of the article (which was lovely, by the way).

        I didn’t miss the point – I was merely adding my own thoughts on the topic.

        > the Girl Scouts

        Yes, and parents make playdates for children but not for adults. Children are shepherded into structured activities so that they can learn social skills and make friends. Adults are expected to do it on their own. (I regard activities like FreeMasonry as even more strange than secret societies.)