The words “Camp Yale” aren’t likely to appear in the university’s materials for prospective applicants. In fact, according to powers that be, these are the “Opening Days of the College.” But for the rest of us, the end of August marks Camp Yale — and the excitement that name suggests says something about one of this school’s greatest traditions.
After all, for returning students, official Yale doesn’t begin until registration on Tuesday. In other words, three-quarters of us aren’t even required to be here. And yet most Yalies decide that they want to come back to school well before anybody makes them.
For freshmen, Camp Yale marks the first chance to understand that SATs and GPAs are only a very small part of what this university is about. It’s a reminder that as special as Yale is — and as special as it feels to be one of the select few who get to come here — this is still college. Yes, there are concert pianists and world-famous professors here, but there are also frat parties and ultimate frisbee. For any incoming students who wondered if Yale, with all its high standards and storied tradition, could be fun, Camp Yale provides a welcome response.
But what’s striking is that Camp Yale inspires almost as much excitement among upperclassmen as it does for newly-arrived freshmen getting their first taste of college. For most of us, spring semester ends with a whimper as students trickle out one by one at the end of exams. Camp Yale is a reminder of a more unified and a more vibrant community here.
And while the University plans plenty of activities this weekend, that community doesn’t come from the Freshman Assembly or the Activities Bazaar. It’s no secret that most Yalies are self-starters. Camp Yale, in its own way, reflects that spirit: This weekend, and the excitement it offers, is almost entirely the product of students themselves. Instead of extending their summer vacations a few days, Yalies come back early to create their own community.
By Wednesday, classes will start, and the laid-back attitude will eventually give way to course packets and reading lists. But Camp Yale, along with shopping period, eases the transition. The Baker’s Dozen house and the sweaty dance rooms provide their own orientation to Yale — and a chance to feel like this is a place worth calling home for the next eight months.
This week, a WB reality show called “Beauty and the Geek” put out a casting call for Yalies — and it’s no secret which of those roles the producers were hoping to fill in New Haven. Nobody would call Yale a party school, but some TV execs might be a bit surprised if they actually walked around campus this weekend. Yalies do many impressive things, and one of them is to create a place where both nervous freshmen and world-weary seniors are excited to be. This weekend, that’s something worth celebrating.