In a time when the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly altered the conventional Yale first-year experience, the University has turned to digital alternatives in an attempt to keep traditions alive during unprecedented times. 

One of Yale’s oldest traditions is its Opening Assembly, when the incoming class and their families gather in the ornate Woolsey Hall. The ceremony’s defining moment in the minds of many Yalies is the singing of “Bright College Years,” Yale’s alma mater — the first time they wave their white hankies. Because safety restrictions led to the cancellation of the in-person musical experience, Yale College Arts is curating an “Introducing the Class of 2024” video to replicate it. They encourage first years to submit footage of themselves singing the anthem by Oct. 1. The compilation of recorded videos will be publicly released in coming months.

“During [COVID-19], it’s especially important to underscore to the incoming class that our community is still here,” said project leaders Jay Mehta ’24, a would-be sophomore on a gap year, and Ben Kramer ’23. “This is us saying that we’re still here for you. We were always here for you. Welcome to Yale!”

Mehta and Kramer are actively involved in Yale’s arts scene. The two reflected on the contrast between their first-year experience and that of the class of 2024, and sought to “find open and equitable ways to involve this incoming class in a meaningful way.” This inspired the “Bright College Years” video project.

The organizers reached out to Associate Dean for the Arts Kate Krier, who along with Administrative Coordinator of the Arts Daisy Abreu helped set the project into motion. 

Mehta and Kramer are receiving video and audio editing support from Virtual Choir — a company Yale contracted to create virtual musical performances for extracurricular groups impeded by pandemic-related safety restrictions.

“Yale has been incredibly inventive in creating virtual alternatives for activities that would be traditionally held in-person, and provided ample suggestions and guidance to performance groups in particular, whose activities are acutely impacted by the restrictions on in-person gatherings,” said Mehta and Kramer. “We’re all improvising right now. We’re glad Yale has taken the lead on adapting, and we’re both hoping to see new and inventive ideas come out of the student body as well.”

Yale College Arts provided first-year students with sheet music, example tracks for all four vocal ranges, singing guides and instructions for how to successfully record and submit videos for the project. 

Melody Gebremedhin ’24, who has already submitted her singing video, said the process wasn’t difficult. “I listened to the tracks over and over to be able to get it, and the sheet music was definitely helpful too,” she said.

Gebremedhin expressed that, in an increasingly virtual world, this experience did not deviate from her new day-to-day normal. A virtual college alma mater was “just another virtual thing.”

“I think learning it online without any guidance is a little bit hard, but I think doing the song online is a good alternative for sure,” said Charnice Hoegnifioh ’24, who is also participating in the project. “Yale is doing a good job to try and keep traditions alive.”

The organizers also realize the equipment barriers that can make participation difficult. They encourage students who require equipment access to reach out to them via email. 

Mehta and Kramer hope that engaging first years in this project will invite them to participate in Yale’s creative culture and take on initiatives of their own. 

“We hope this project serves not only as a way to involve the frosh, but also as a way for the frosh to introduce themselves to the Yale community,” they said. 

“Bright College Years” was written in 1881.