Last year, the Yale College Council and Yale’s various student publications joined together to pioneer a new tradition, the YCC Correspondents’ Dinner. Conceived in the mind of Marissa Medansky ’15 as a spoof of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the event was designed to celebrate Yale’s student government and media in a night of good cheer. The inaugural edition was ebullient, and this Saturday the YCC will come back for round two in what promises to be a great success.
In the aftermath of last year’s lavish gala, Marissa took to the pages of the News to opine on its true meaning. Dubbing it a “rehearsal dinner,” she argued that the underlying subtext of the event was “the uncanny, uncomfortable, unrelenting sense that all of us are just here to rehearse” (“Rehearsal Dinner,” April 10, 2015).
Marissa is my good friend and her column was very thoughtful, but I sure hope she’s wrong. I think her premise, if embraced, undermines the value of the day-to-day Yale experience and infuses an ultimately misguided self-importance into certain campus organizations. Yale-centered student groups can provide valuable contributions to our community, but to call them a “rehearsal” is a step too far. In reality, most of what they do — including the facetiously self-congratulatory Correspondents’ Dinner — isn’t very serious at all.
The idea that students here are the future leaders of the world is Yale’s most self-indulgent trope. Although some alumni have gone on to achieve leadership prominence — a mixed bag (at best) for our country — it is nevertheless a toxic and absurd lens through which to view day-to-day student life. I’m sure that sometime in the not-too-distant future, the people who saw their time here as a rehearsal will end up very disappointed! Some say happiness equals reality minus expectations, and people who adopt the leaders-of-the-world mentality are just setting themselves up for a big let down.
I’ve been involved in many of the more self-serious groups on campus and found that it’s much healthier to think of Yale first as a “society of friends,” as George Pierson once put it. It’s more fun and not as stressful. Imagine how much better off we’d all be if we took a page out of Jackie Moon’s playbook in “Semi-Pro” and had the mentality of E.L.E. — everybody love everybody!
I don’t mean to suggest that problems at Yale should not be taken seriously. The nature and pervasiveness of issues like sexual assault and mental health require thoughtful consideration and decisive action. Student input in this effort is invaluable. But the projection of these problems, or the projection of future personal ambitions, onto every single aspect of campus affairs is off-putting and counterproductive.
Our time at Yale is an incredible gift and opportunity. It has value in and of itself. We likely will never be surrounded by such a high concentration of driven, talented people again. It will probably be our last time immersed in a place with such a strong sense of community. The focus during our four years here should be on these realities, and how we can best appreciate and make the most of them.
Our activities and events at Yale, including the Correspondents’ Dinner, shouldn’t be seen as a rehearsal. The dinner is not a tryout for national leadership. It’s a facetious event where people have a chance to take it down a notch and have a good time in the company of friends. As it should be.
Michael Herbert is a senior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .