Yale News

This year’s Class Day celebration will take place virtually on May 23 and will feature Alec Zbornak ’21, Matt Nadel ’21, Teava Torres de Sa ’21 and Vy Tran ’21 as student speakers alongside Broadway and film composer Robert Lopez ’97.

Class Day, an annual graduation tradition organized by students, usually takes place the Sunday before commencement. The tradition first began over 100 years ago, when seniors, independent of the administration, organized an event on Old Campus to celebrate what faculty advisor for the Class Day Committee Alison Coleman described as their “last hurrah.” Instead of smoking pipes in a large circle, seniors now wear funny hats and sit in chairs to watch four speeches: one from a selected Class Day speaker — announced on March 26 as Lopez — and three from members of their own class. The student speakers are chosen by the Class Day committee, who publicly revealed this year’s speakers for the first time in an interview with the News.

“It was a hard choice,” said Jin Hua Li ’21, one of three committee members responsible for choosing the Class Day speaker line-up. “But we really do believe that the speakers we have now not only fit their categories very well, but they complement one another well. We want to look at Yale from various angles and then try to piece it together to get a very comprehensive view of our Yale and our class’ relationship to Yale.” 

The Class Day Committee chose its speakers from a group of almost 30 applicants who participated in the live audition process over Zoom. In an interview with the News, the committee revealed that the Serious Reflection speech will be given by Zbornak, Nadel and Torres de Sa will give the Comic Reflection speech and Tran will give the Ivy Ode.

While the Serious and Comic Reflection speeches are more traditional and can be expected to take the tones for which they are named, the Ivy Ode is characterized by its flexibility and can take different artistic forms such as spoken-word poetry or even music.

“Four years ago, the Class of 2021 first came together on Old Campus, alone and nervous to begin our Yale careers,” wrote Nadel and Torres de Sa in a joint email to the News. “Last March, we scattered across the world, alone and nervous once again. And now, more haggard and cynical than any senior class before us, we are ready to reassemble on Old Campus and bid this place adieu. We would like to thank the Class Day Committee for trusting us to lead the Class of 2021 in remembering — and laughing about — our Yale journey.”

Zbornak echoed his classmates, stating that he felt “honored” and that the writing of the speech was a “meditative and emotional” experience. He described his excitement to share his speech with the people who inspired him most: “my classmates.”

The committee hopes to stream all Class Day speeches live so that all graduates will be able to participate in Class Day at the same time.

While the event is typically held on Old Campus, the location was not possible this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, other Class Day traditions have been able to adapt to public health regulations more easily. For example, the gift bags that are usually given to each member of the graduating class at the event will still be distributed. While the contents of the bag vary from year to year, they always include a white clay pipe — in memory of the original Class Day tradition, although sans tobacco, as Coleman assured — and the Class Anthology.

According to Skye Ward ’21, the editor of this year’s anthology, the book typically includes copies of the speakers’ speeches, as well as a collection of seniors’ essays on their time at Yale. Ward noted that, while anthologies across the years have usually oscillated between an informal or very formal style, she wanted to establish a new tone for the Class of 2021’s anthology that would better capture the spirit of the class.

“I wanted to mix the [formality and informality] because I feel like that’s how our class is: very fun but also very passionate about what we do,” she said.

In addition to the traditional essays and speeches of past years, the anthology will — for the first time — include student submitted artwork and photographs.

Other additions to Class Day traditions have been aided by the event’s virtual nature. Li noted this “silver lining,” explaining that the committee has been able to redirect funds they would traditionally spend on in-person events to providing the class with more gifts, such as hats, keychains and a committee favorite — ivy seeds. Since students will be unable to gather in large groups, the committee has also planned smaller events leading up to the ceremony, such as setting up spaces for students to decorate hats together.

“This year … I was able at least to say with confidence to the committee that everything that you’re planning is going to work well in either [virtual or in-person] modes,” said Coleman. “I’m just really excited that both last year and this year, the members of the class day committee have been really creative, flexible and collaborative thinkers, so it enables us to be — even now — opportunistic about saying ‘Okay, well, what can we do to make this the best possible Class Day?’”

Committee members all expressed their desire to encapsulate the unique qualities of the Class of 2021. 

Steven Orientale ’21, the organizer of the Class History — a collection of videos from the class’s time at Yale — hopes to capture what he believes differentiates the Class of 2021 from their predecessors.

 “We’re the first largest class at Yale; we’ve gone through a lot of first,” he said. “The first full classes to come from Murray and Franklin. What we’re doing with the Class History is captur[ing] all the different moments — both the large events … and also the small events — that make us the Class of 2021.”

According to Colemean, the role of the Class Day Committee as a whole is to “develop and execute a vision for the ceremony” in a manner that “preserve[s] Yale traditions while helping develop new ones.”

Last year’s Class Day speaker was gene-therapy scientist Jean Bennett ’76.

Marissa Blum | marissa.blum@yale.edu

Isabelle Qian | isabelle.qian@yale.edu

Isabelle Qian covers Yale's graduate and professional schools. She is a sophomore in Pierson College and comes from Seattle, WA.