Amid all the promotional forms and preparatory booklets stamped with New Haven postmarks each summer, the words “Camp Yale” remain difficult to find. Sifting through surveys, health plans and notices of changes to state alcohol policy yields only references to the “Opening Days of the College.” But to most of us, the end of August still means the beginning of Camp Yale — and the excitement that term carries says a lot about this week, one of our school’s greatest traditions.
For upperclassmen, after all, the school year doesn’t officially begin until Tuesday morning, when residential colleges mandate registration. To put it more bluntly, the vast majority of us don’t have to be here. Still, here we are, moving back into college dorms well before anyone makes us.
For freshmen arriving on campus after pre-orientation — whether that be a hike, a lodge, or the flight into Bradley — Camp Yale has become the first true glimpse of what life at this university is about. Perhaps most importantly, it is the first proof that although SATs and GPAs may have defined the road to Yale, they are hardly the sum of life at Yale. Gothic architecture and brand names notwithstanding, this is still college.
Sure, the place is packed with famous professors and famous kids, but it?s also replete with frisbees and kegs. If Bulldog Days failed to lay any doubts to rest in the spring, Camp Yale offers a definitive answer to the question of whether or not this school can be fun.
And this week is treasured just as much by returning students as by first timers, if not more. After a typically anticlimactic end to the spring semester — a rush through finals followed by a prompt eviction from the dorms — Camp Yale makes for a welcome reminder of the vibrancy, the unity and the fun that this community has to offer.
University officials have lined up a sea of activities for the next few days, but the Yale community isn’t a product of the Freshman Assembly or the Activities Bazaar. The excitement of Camp Yale is almost entirely the product of the students themselves, a community that works to open its doors a few days early instead of spending those extra lazy summer afternoons in front of the TV.
A week from now, the relaxation and freedom of Camp Yale will begin to fade, replaced by reading lists and course packets. But the spirit of this week endures, and, along with shopping period, makes that transition much easier to bear. The frats and the sweat-soaked dance rooms provide their own orientation — and a hint of how quickly the next eight months will go by.
This past month, Canada’s Lakehead University tried to attract students — or maybe just attention — with a Web site dubbed “Yale Shmale,” which featured a puzzled-looking George W. Bush ’68 and the tagline, “Graduating from an Ivy League university doesn’t mean you’re smart.” But there’s a lot more to this school than Mr. Bush. Among all the impressive things Yalies do, the perpetuation of a community where both freshmen and seniors are excited to be is one of the most impressive. Enjoy it.