For three hours on Sunday afternoon, hundreds of freshmen took over Payne Whitney Gym. They were complete strangers to me, but I saw a bit of myself in each of them as they roamed the aisles of the extracurricular bazaar. They were wide-eyed and excited, unsure of whether to be overwhelmed or enthusiastic — probably both. Free from the stress of finals, looming deadlines and Thursday-morning class following a long night at Woads, they soaked in Yale in its most glorious form, aura undimmed.
The bazaar each year is chaos — a mass of gaudy posters, free candy, hollering upperclassmen and, of course, email panlists. There is little time for you to think, and you put your contact info down in far too many places, with little regard for the ramifications on your Gmail inbox. The News or Model U.N.? Dwight Hall or club sports? “Do you sing?” Why not have it all?
Nothing quite captures the spirit of Yale like the bazaar. It is everything nonacademic that Yale has to offer in one room, with the majority of groups being organized and led by students. The bazaar does more than show you what you can join — it shows you who you can become. The diversity of talents and passions is in equal measure staggering and humbling — how can a single campus encompass so many different facets of life?
And yet, the bazaar is an event exclusively marketed to freshmen. Though returning students are often the ones running the booths, the assumption is that the plethora of extracurricular options is only relevant to new students. Truth is, the bazaar and events like it should be as important for seasoned Yalies as they are for inexperienced freshmen.
As we advance through our four years here, many become bored, jaded and dissatisfied. The flaws in the fabric of elite education become more apparent, and the thrill of simply being at Yale fades into the background. What had been rustic becomes rundown; what had been antique becomes stale; what had been quirky becomes weird.
The bazaar is an opportunity to set aside our skepticism and brush away hackneyed tropes — of “burning out,” of “sophomore slumping,” of “senioritis.” It provides us a window through time, into the perspective of freshmen not that much younger but seemingly worlds apart. Our “boring lecturer” is their world-class professor. Our “brutal pre-req” is their first class at college. Our “been there, done that” is their ambition.
More practically, the bazaar re-exposes us to Yale. Why should joining a club only be for freshmen? Many groups would benefit from an influx of wizened veterans, who would provide perspective and experience while helping the new crop of freshmen grow into their roles. And many students would benefit from a shake-up to their day-to-day schedule — life at Yale should be anything but mundane.
The upperclassmen’s resistance to joining new clubs is indicative of a larger problem — Yalies join clubs to excel, rather than to learn. Students target leadership roles with a set formula in mind: wet your feet and learn the way things work as a freshman, become a significant contributor as sophomore and become a leader as a junior. This CV-oriented mindset discourages upperclassmen from joining something that they may never be able to include on a resume.
Students have a role in re-exploring the roots of their lives at Yale. So, next year, buck the trend and go to the bazaar, even if you don’t run an organization there. Have an open mind and a fresh perspective. Sign up for a club (or two). Maybe you’ll find a new group you hadn’t heard of. Or maybe you’ll just grab some free candy.
Mrinal Kumar is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .