Phoebe Liu, Contributing Photographer
This year’s Class Day — an annual graduation tradition organized by students — took place virtually on YouTube, amid a hybrid Commencement week that included both in-person and online festivities. The Sunday event featured four speakers from the class of 2021 alongside Broadway and film composer Robert Lopez ’97.
Usually held on Old Campus, Class Day is celebrated each year on the Sunday before commencement. A tradition that is centuries old, Class Day includes seniors wearing funny hats and listening to four speeches: one from a notable, non-student speaker — Lopez — and three from members of their own class chosen by the Class Day committee. This year’s Class Day committee members included Bryan Lu Owens ’21, Curtis Wiley Colvett ’21, Stanley Lam ’21, Jin Li ’21, Steven Orientale ’21, Skye Ward ’21 and Akhil Rajan ’21. This year, the committee selected Alec Zbornak ’21 to give the Serious Reflection speech, Matt Nadel ’21 and Teava Torres de Sa ’21 to give the Comic Reflection speech and Vy Tran ’21 to give the Ivy Ode.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned at Yale, it’s that I’m only a sum of everyone that I’ve ever loved,” Tran said in the speech. “In reality, the things that make Yale ‘Yale’ are the people that we love and the ways that we love them. … We’ve come so far and done so much and loved so widely and so deeply, and there’s even more to come.”
This year, Class Day included speeches, remarks from committee members, multimedia components featuring the senior class and more. While the event could not be held on Old Campus due to COVID-19 restrictions, other Class Day traditions — such as gift bags and the senior class anthology — were emphasized because of the virtual format.
Gift bags were distributed to the senior class for the celebration. Li, a member of the Class Day committee, previously told the News that the class of 2021 received more gifts — such as hats, keychains and ivy seeds — than normal due to the adapted online format. Li added that funds that would traditionally have been spent on in-person events were redirected to this effort. The committee also organized smaller in-person events leading up to Sunday’s ceremony, such as spaces for individual groups of students to decorate their hats together.
The class anthology — a collection of seniors’ essays and copies of the speakers’ speeches, edited by Ward — also expanded this year. In addition to the essays and speeches, the anthology included student submitted artwork and photographs for the first time.
As the keynote speaker, Lopez underscored collaboration and service as keys to being successful in life.
“Ever since I’ve started trying to reach out with music and help people with it, like magic, I started being more successful,” Lopez told listeners. “I think this is true of anything any of you want to do in life. It needs to be of service to the community. It needs to fulfill a function to make people’s lives better in some way. And if it does that, people will value it, and people will value you.”
Lopez, an award-winning composer, also reminisced on his own bright college years during his speech. He spoke of memories in his a cappella group, the Yale Spizzwinks(?), and the importance of staying in touch with Yale peers. Lopez added that the class of 2021 served as collaborators, not just for each other, but in “reimagining Yale within the realities” of the pandemic.
Throughout the speech, Lopez played the piano and sang snippets of songs, including “Remember Me” from Disney’s “Coco” and “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” Both film songs were co-written with his wife and collaborator, Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
The comedic reflection, delivered by Nadel and Torres — roommates and best friends since they were randomly assigned to live together during their first year at Yale — poked fun at everything from imposter syndrome to Yale’s egregious number of acronyms to First Year Outdoor Orientation, which Nadel called “Yale’s favorite cult.”
“We will always be united in our memories,” Nadel said. Torres added, “We’ll always be the class that paid full tuition to watch a Sterling professor speak on mute for 15 minutes.”
The two graduating seniors also paid homage to a year of “hours reading COVID emails,” no-fail Yale, Zoom classes, zimprov shows, zoga classes, zaked parties and, Torres said slightly sheepishly, “ziciplinary hearings.”
They ended by acknowledging the “top-of-the-line education” that, despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic, they were still able to receive at Yale. And, Nadel added, “some-top-of-the-line mRNA.”
Zbornak, in delivering the serious reflection, compared the college experience to a rainbow he saw in Hawaii while on tour with his improv group, Just Add Water. The closer they got to the rainbow, he said, the more it seemed to slip away.
“Each of us has spent the past four years running towards our beautiful Yale finales … and then came the pandemic, and a lot of things changed about Yale,” Zbornak said. “But the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s always been this way.”
Yalies constantly have to choose between cannoli in the courtyard and chicken nuggets on Cross Campus, between hearing a famous screenwriter and a Nobel laureate speak, he said.
But instead of trying to do everything, Zbornak added, Yale is about realizing that it’s impossible to ever catch the rainbow and is instead about discovering “how you want to chase it.”
“Because it’s lovely to chase rainbows,” Zbornak concluded, “especially when the chase is as beautiful and vibrant and special as it was at Yale.”
According to the Yale 2021 website, due to changes to the academic calendar, senior prizes will be announced after the final recording of spring term grades.
Previous Class Day speakers have included current President Joseph R. Biden, 2016 Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, and gene-therapy scientist Jean Bennett ’76.