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After-hours education (Feb. 1994)

Receiving a phone call from the dean of Yale College is not a good way to wake up. I had been asleep only a few hours and did not want anybody to be calling at 9:30 a.m., an ungodly hour for most undergraduates. I certainly was not pleased when my gruff “Hello?” was met with a “Yes, is David there? This is the dean.”

I had called him the previous day to ask him some questions for an article I was working on for the Daily News. The problem now was remembering which article and which question.

I was having particular trouble getting primed for the interview because I had spent the previous night talking with roommates until 5 a.m. while eating chips and salsa. It’s our version of the all-nighter. We study until 1 or 2 a.m. and then spend a few hours talking about anything—except papers, tests, internships, job hunting, graduate school, and politics. We call it a “convention,” and it has become something of a ritual in our suite over the past three years.

We started convening during sophomore year, when I would come home from a night at the News and need a way to wind down. My roommates would call me shortly before deadline and give the orders: Bring home the chips and salsa from WaWa; we’re convening. By the time I was back to the room, they had put the sofas and chairs in a circle.

The conventions are largely a chance to act silly late at night; we realize that. These are not the late-night discussions about philosophy and foreign policy that alumni recall as the most important educational experiences at Yale. We have found that elsewhere.

What draws us away from work and sleep is a need for some consistency in college life. For most current undergraduates, college represents the first time we are without a family. There is no dinner table around which to sit and review the day’s events.

So we’ve created one. We have invented traditions, like the chips and salsa and a five-foot-high wooden lectern from which we deliver pseudo-speeches. These traditions turn a messy, cramped, and overheated common room into a space that feels familiar.

Such a place is not easy to find at Yale, where the emphasis is on making Phi Beta Kappa or gaining admission to medical school. It is especially difficult to find for men, who, as women take pleasure in reminding us, are taught to communicate with each other chiefly through grunts.

Needless to say, as I fumbled for coherence on the phone to the dean, I could hardly explain to him that my brusque greeting was in fact the result of an important college ritual. Perhaps he knew. It is, after all, part of his job.

David Leonhardt ’94 was editor of the Yale Daily News from 1992 to 1993.

Filed under 1990s
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