Malia Kuo

Between Kelly Guilfoyle’s Effie-Trinket-like RNC speech and the unresolved murder hornets subplot, 2020 is continually resembling a poorly written dystopian YA novel. As main characters emerge from behind Zoom screens, background characters are pushed to the distant horizon of the story’s landscape — doomed to frame the arc of those at the center of attention.

That’s us.

The unnamed tributes who disappear after the 10 seconds of The Hunger Games, the citizens that are definitely not Divergent, the random teenage boy in The Maze Runner: the gap-year students of 2025. 

Not unionized enough to appear as a cohesive entity, the gap-year Yalies of ’25 have instead faded into a myth told by those on campus this semester. We were rumored to belong at one point, but too intangible to be of much importance to Yale’s main characters — a passing thought as classrooms appear slightly underfilled. Now, after (metaphorically) raising our hands to sacrifice our education in the interest of protecting our communities and ourselves, we have volunteered as tributes to help keep Yale a safe place.

Much like a dystopian novel with an oddly large and passionate fandom, a twist in point-of-view can serve to keep audiences engaged and enthralled. So, in a jealous attempt to distract from the main characters of ’24, who are currently enjoying a flurry of Yale Instagram posts dedicated to their unprecedented diversity, “gappies” are prepared to take back the plotline. 

Naturally, any so-bad-it’s-good dystopian novel needs a few adventurous (and maybe even slightly reckless) young teenagers. The Dauntless faction of Yale, these students-slash-characters dare to push physical limits or even discover an unknown strength along the way. Enter, the venturesome gappies.

From the Czech Republic to New Zealand, these background characters are keeping busy while overcoming the pandemic. Some plans include:

“From January to July, through a program sponsored by the U.S. Congress and German Bundestag, I will be doing an exchange semester in Germany with a host family and host school.” — Paula Toranzo

“In two weeks, I’ll join other gap year students in the U.K. for Art History Abroad where we will travel around to different cities studying art, music, poetry, etc.” — Hope Keithahn

“Over the past few weeks, I have started flight training to earn a private pilot license. I have been piloting Cessna-172s over Smith Mountain Lake in southern Virginia.” — Victoria Smithson

Donning government-mandated masks as uniforms, these YA characters appear  adventurous enough to get invited on the main character’s pivotal journey. Unfortunately, their leg of the trip just so happened to be postponed a year. 

While some background characters are brought along with the main characters to jump off trains or something, others stay behind to advocate for the change that everyone wants to see. As the off-brand Katniss Everdeens of the story – without their  bows and arrows and (probably) their two sexy boyfriends, these characters remain in their hometowns to fight systemic injustices:

“I’m spending the next year serving with City Year Boston as a corps member in a Boston public school. City Year Boston is very intentional about centering social justice in its mission, and so employing anti-racist and abolitionist teaching practices in my work is going to be a major goal!” — Sophia Burick

“I’m working with a nonprofit in North Denver that works with families in some of North Denver’s most pollution-vulnerable neighborhoods…. As the most polluted zip code in the nation, you have a lot of environmental racism in that community.” — Quinn Evans

“In the fall, I’m writing letters to prisoners as an intern for the San Francisco DA’s office; the current DA runs on the platform of decreasing mass incarceration.” — Sarah Feng

Instead of being the maze runners and leaving their safe havens, these gappies make a point of improving their communities before getting to New Haven. Though their stories aren’t usually included in the main plot of the book, the country could never rise from rebellion and start anew without their dedication to equity and fairness.

Perhaps the most relatable background character trope, however, is the feeling of being left behind. While everyone else is experiencing the adventure that is stepping foot on Yale’s campus for the first time as a student, gappies chose to watch from afar,painstakingly observing what could have been. The Primroses of Yale; these gappies know what it’s like to observe plot-moving events happening to other characters. Whether separated by six feet or 6000 miles, the distance between these students and a regular school year feels insurmountable:

“The air here [in California] is really smoky and I can’t go outside that often, so seeing people sitting in the Yale courtyard with everything sparkling makes me jealous of everything right now.” — Molly Weiner

“I want to get my hopes up that I’ll have that normal [college] experience, but I can’t. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually going to get to go to Yale.” — Pia Baldwin Edwards

“Most of my friends decided to go ahead with their freshman year of college, which has made me the odd one out. Social media has only exacerbated this feeling.” — Vivian Tong

While the main characters are off saving the world, background Yalies are feeling the brunt of their decision. Clearly (though voluntarily) missing out on the first-year experience, ’25s almost tasted a Victor’s Village meal but were met with a mouthful of scraps instead. Though most seem happy and relieved with their decision to take a gap year, underlying feelings of jealousy and anxiety continually resurface for this unique class.

With inevitable love triangles (names undisclosed), daunting yet vague government policy (AKA all of Salovey’s pre-August emails), and the banding together of young people for justice (Universal Pass/Fail, anyone?), the similarities of 2020 to a teenage dystopia are too many to count. Fortunately for everyone, the tributes of the class of 2024 had quite a few individuals who wanted to volunteer their time, first-year experience, and education for the greater good. As a result, all of “Panem” and its factions are better off for it — even if the maze of pandemic problems and precarity still feels ever-shifting.

Ivana Ramirez | ivanasbook@gmail.com