It started with a simple Facebook post …
“Is anyone selling first year formal tickets? Please message me if you are.”
“Lonely boi looking for one TICKET. Will pay fat bank so hit me up.”
“Hi everyone, my name is Chris and I am super cool except for the fact that I am an idiot who didn’t buy formal tickets in time. My date who is also super cool is really mad at me so pls help me out.”
This year, first years are getting indirectly screwed over by Stephen Schwarzman ’69, who is also the reason why Silliman becomes insanely crowded at 12:35 p.m. each weekday.
Traditionally, “First-Year Formal” has been held in Commons. While it may not be as swanky as this year’s venue, the Omni Hotel, it does ensure that everyone is able to attend one of Yale’s few classwide events. This year’s tickets are capped at 1,100, a problem considering that we have the largest class in Yale’s history, rounding out at 1,579. They’re also more expensive than they have been in the past, costing around $17–18 depending on how you purchase them.
The closing of Commons for its Cinderella-esque transformation (if Cinderella were a riches to more riches story) to the Schwarzman Center is more than just an inconvenience. No one (even Schwarzman himself) is really sure what the center is for, besides the nebulous terms of “student meeting spaces,” “state of the art technology” and “creative dining options,” which is just an excuse for them to put in a bar.
But even if you take the best-case scenario for the Schwarzman Center, which is that the new center will be a place to host prominent speakers, enhance existing student life and bring an outdoor cafe to Beinecke Plaza (per the Schwarzman Center’s Powerpoint, which asks us to imagine a lot of things), there’s still a question: Is the three-year tradeoff worth it?
The only memories I have of Commons are from my college visit and Bulldog Days. It was a place where you could run into anyone and everyone, sketched out with the edges of long wooden tables and accentuated by the colorful flags of the (then 12) residential colleges. Its sheer breadth seemed to swallow you whole, reminding you that above all, this is Yale. At Bulldog Days, I remember seeing it afresh when the sunlight ran out. The chandeliers were set aglow, the music blasted so loudly I thought my ears would burst, and students danced the night away, on the same long wooden tables that seemed so regal just hours before.
I think that the loss of Commons is much more than the loss of a Silliman-alternative. It’s daylight robbery, preventing three generations’ worth of Yalies from experiencing classwide traditions. This year’s Holiday dinner, rather than being a congregation of the Class of 2021, consisted of each half of the class trudging to Yale on York on different nights, all to stand in a stuffy room, holding onto flimsy paper plates. Because there weren’t any tables or chairs to eat at, whole lobsters and loaves of bread ended up stuffed in the trash. Many first years left the Holiday Dinner disappointed and hungry. It was a far cry from the tradition of a twinkling Commons. There, at least, you could sit down.
However, this doesn’t just affect the Holiday Dinner. It also affects the Harvard-Yale party (it’s odd how they opened up Commons for Harvard-Yale but not the First-Year Formal), Halloween celebration and the ability for everyone to access the First-Year Formal, whether it’s due to the sheer lack of tickets or the fact that tickets were cheaper when we didn’t have to rent out the Omni Hotel.
As Yale students, we should value classwide events. They’re places where we can exchange embraces and pleasantries with people who fall outside the cocoons of our residential colleges and the routines of our daily schedules. We each experience Yale differently, but we’re bound by threads of similar experiences. Closing down Commons means three years where certain people will be excluded from the First-Year Formal and three years’ worth of lobster left rotting in dumpsters.
Also, it just seems counterintuitive that a $150 million renovation (the second largest donation in Yale history), is going to take three whole years to complete. Interesting, at best.
See you senior year, Commons. Or should I say, Schwarzman Center?
Katherine Hu is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.