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Building Community in the Residential Colleges


One of the topics that incoming students most frequently have questions about is residential life at Princeton. While Princeton prides itself on its superior academic program, residential life is an important component of the student experience here.

I am a Residential College Adviser, or RCA, at Butler College, one of seven residential colleges. My role is to foster and build community among students, as part of a team of Butler College staff, RCAs and other peer leaders within the residential college. One of the ways we do this is by putting on a variety of events for all students in the Butler community, to connect, have fun and take a break from studying. 

 

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A tree with green, yellow, and red leaves against a backdrop of brick buildings and blue sky.
Outside Butler College

My favorite event is the Butler Teahive, a weekly study break that the Butler College staff organizes for all students. At 3:00 p.m. every Friday, one of the rooms in the Butler basement is transformed into a social hub where students connect with each other over a cup of tea and a selection of delicious desserts and berries from a rotating cast of local bakeries and restaurants. I’ve gotten excellent academic advice from the Butler college staff in a low-pressure environment, I get to see some friends and even make new ones, and there’s always plenty of delicious treats for everyone. 

In addition to the weekly events put on by Butler College staff, the student-run Butler College Council, and RCAs like me, there are also one-time events held regularly. Resident Graduate Students (RGS) or Butler College Council often plan these fun, community building events that try their best to include every type of student. If you’re itching to burst out of the so-called ‘Orange Bubble’ you can join your residential college for a Broadway show or a Six Flags trip. Those with an artistic bent might enjoy the many arts and crafts nights, from paint and sip (with boba) to karaoke night. Or if you prefer a laid-back kind of vibe, there’s always game nights and watch parties (most recently for the World Cup). 

 

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A colorful poster advertising "Community Wall Night" at Butler College.
One of the many RGS-organized community events.

I’ve spoken about my experience at Butler College, the residence college I work for and have lived in for all of my time at Princeton. But all seven operate in the same way and offer the same amount of programming and community building that we at Butler do. No matter which college you end up in, you’ll have plenty to do and many friends to meet!


Getting Oriented on Campus: Community Action as a First-Year to Community Action as a Leader


CA, OA, DDA. These are acronyms that all incoming first-years come to know as they embark on their college journey at Princeton. Community Action, Outdoor Action, and Dialogue & Difference in Action, respectively, are three of the main orientation programs that new students are assigned to upon arrival to campus. While all three programs have their unique merits and focuses, I’d like to talk about my amazing Community Action experiences, both as a first-year student and later as a leader. 

I remember arriving at Princeton and, like many incoming students, wondering how, when, and where I’d make friends. Surely, you’ll meet peers through your classes, your advisee “zee” group (AKA the people that live on/around your floor), and through clubs. However, CA, and orientation in general, presents a special opportunity to meet a random assortment of fellow first-years that you may otherwise never have met anywhere else. It also is an opportunity to connect with communities nearby and engage in service.

My first year, I absolutely loved my CA group. Even though we were still in our COVID-era and could not do the typical overnight orientation trips, our group bonded quickly. One of my favorite memories was going to the Princeton-Blairstown Center (PBC) and getting to do team-building games and go canoeing together. Another would be doing a gardening service project at the local Grounds for Sculpture. These activities really brought our group together and, to this day, I’m still good friends with many members of my CA group. And even with those I’m not, it’s nice to have a familiar face around campus to say hi to. Coincidentally, my CA trip is also where I met one of my best friends (shoutout Kelsey!). Though she was in a different group than me, we were both at the same service site and got to talking. We found out we shared a lot of similarities, like being from New Jersey, living in what was then First College, and also enjoying our CA experiences so much.
 

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Group of students posing around statue
My 2021 CA Group, as a first-year student!

That is partially what inspired that very friend and I to become CA leaders together this year for the Class of 2026. Our CA group (shoutout Group 17~38!) quickly became like a family, and the energy and positivity our first-years brought was absolutely palpable throughout our entire trip. Now many weeks past the end of this year’s orientation program, we still find ourselves sending jokes in our Group 17 chat, grabbing dinner together on Nassau St., and studying with them on our floor. I can safely say that becoming a CA leader was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and our CA trip this year was one of, if not the, best 4 days of my Princeton experience thus far. 

All this to say, orientation and Community Action is one of the many ways Princeton helps foster community amongst the incoming class. From the start of your Princeton career, you’re able to build strong connections with your peers — connections that will hopefully end up lasting a lifetime!
 

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Students and man posing for group picture in front of tree
My 2022 CA group, as a sophomore and leader!

Staying Connected With Your Residential College as an Upperclassman


Before Princeton changed its residential college system and transformed all of its residential colleges into four-year colleges, the tradition was for juniors and seniors to move out of the hallowed halls they had called home for the past two years. Room draw for the 2022-2023 academic year was the first year this change was implemented, and while my draw group and I had hoped to stay in a residential college for our final two years at Princeton, we ultimately drew a room in junior and senior housing.

There are a lot of moments where I reminisce about my time at Forbes College, the far but cozy residential college known for its community and Sunday brunch (though I would argue Saturday brunches are better!)

I miss not having to walk in the cold during the winter to get to the dining hall, rolling out of bed on the weekends and walking six feet to the most popular weekend brunch spot, watching movies in the Forbes theater and sitting in the backyard and doing work while watching the sun set over the golf course with the graduate tower in the distance. 

Forbes felt like a home, and I missed that community aspect of my dorm as I migrated further up campus for my junior year. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to share my living space with people outside of Forbes (a perk of junior and senior housing) and the shorter commute to my classes, but every now and then I do find myself thinking of my old residential college.

Just my luck, at the end of September, Forbes held an Oktoberfest event for juniors and seniors –– where we were invited to the home of the Head of Forbes College, Maria Garlock, to have dinner and mingle with our fellow Forbesians. Once again, I found myself trekking across the lawn in front of the Lewis Center for the Arts and crossing the familiar crosswalk where familiar pillars welcomed me. 

The event was held in the string light adorned backyard, where my roommates and I indulged on pretzels and currywurst and the like. Throughout the hour-long duration we were there, I saw many faces both familiar and unfamiliar, and realized the durability of the Forbes community. Some of the seniors there hadn’t lived in Forbes for over a year but were still present and chatting with the deans and staff.

Little events like this made me feel like an integral part of the community. My roommates and I (one of my current roommates was also a Forbesian) had a great time reminiscing about our time in Forbes, concluding that we should come more often for weekend brunches. 

I realized then that it really isn’t that difficult to stay connected with your residential college as a junior or senior. Read your email, make the walk on weekends to use your dining hall swipes and never forget the memories you made there as a first-year or sophomore. And maybe you’ll be lucky enough in your room draw to keep living there as an junior or senior. 


Reaching Beyond the Classroom Walls: A Course on Immigration Justice and Making An Impact


I recently had the opportunity to sit in on immigration court proceedings with one of my classes. Though the majority of that day was spent speaking with the Chief Judge of Newark Immigration Court, meeting with our consulting attorney and other lawyers working to provide universal representation in asylum cases, and enjoying a lovely lunch at a local Ethiopian restaurant, that single hour inside the court left the largest impact on the class.

My journey to this class is a testament to the supportive networks that exist among Princeton faculty and students. While writing a final paper on Mexican immigration policy for one of my first-year spring classes, my professor at the time suggested I reach out to Dr. Frank-Vitale, a postdoctoral research associate in the Program of Latin American Studies (PLAS) whose work had dealt greatly with the topic that I was researching. Dr. Frank-Vitale was immediately extremely accessible and happy to share her knowledge with me–a student who was not even taking her course that semester. 

During the process of meeting with her, I found out about her course, LAS 362 Central Americans and Asylum in the United States. My interest was instantly piqued, both as a daughter of two immigrants, and as somebody who is interested in pursuing a career in immigration law. Additionally, I had loved my previous experiences with courses in PLAS, and was excited to work towards a certificate in the program.

The class itself is a theoretical and practical exploration of the asylum seeking process in the United States. It has dealt with themes including the evolution of the U.S. immigration system, the ethics of international conventions pertaining to immigration, and the logistics associated with applying for asylum or refugee status. The class meets each week to discuss these topics in depth, getting to hear not only from an amazing professor, but also from twenty other brilliant undergraduates. Our semester-long project involves working with an attorney to create country conditions reports that will hopefully be useful in four real-life asylum cases.

Our trip to Newark was not only an opportunity to build community with the class outside of a seminar-style setting, but also a chance to engage with the community outside of Princeton and gain an insight into the sort of impact that our work may have. I believe this is something that is beautifully unique to Princeton, and I cannot describe the gratitude I feel for these sorts of opportunities to allow our classwork to reach beyond the classroom walls.

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Group photo of Princeton students inside of a restaurant

I already know that LAS 362 will be one of my most memorable and formative experiences during my time at Princeton. And although I will be sad to say goodbye to this course come December, I will leave this class feeling fueled in my passion for immigration justice, seeking the next step in immigration advocacy.


Traversing the Orange Bubble


Navigating your way around campus can be intimidating during a visit or just after move-in, but after several weeks, you'll likely find yourself realizing that the campus is actually quite compact. Traversing the Orange Bubble for your various classes throughout the day is quite doable on foot or on bike, which is why very few students have cars on campus (that, combined with the lack of practically any place to park one). Additionally, Princeton's buildings are becoming increasingly accessible. For instance, Naomi Hess '22 has a wonderful blog on the recent renovations to Nassau Hall that allowed her to be the first person using a wheelchair to enter the building without assistance. In short, getting around campus without a car or shuttle is easy, and the impromptu conversations that occur while entering, leaving and traveling between campus buildings are an unsung but vital part of the Princeton experience. 

For example, after working on a paper or problem set for several hours, I might summarize verbally what I've been doing to a friend I pass on my way out of the E-Quad or library. The simple act of condensing the main points of my work can be very helpful in synthesizing and organizing the material in my mind. Other times, the walks between classes provide an opportunity to catch up with friends when we don't have the time to organize a formal meet-up or get-together. Even though we might not have the time for a concert or event together, we can always chat as we walk from class to class. I really appreciate the moments with friends as I get around campus, as they've been the start of both great ideas and friendships.

Campus is very self-contained, but there may be times when you need something from a destination farther away. For those moments, you can take the Tiger Transit shuttle bus. This bus is free and drives around campus daily, and on the weekends it follows the Weekend Shopper route. This route proceeds down Route 1 to stop at the various shopping centers that include a Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Staples, Home Depot and other stores. I've taken the Weekend Shopper to buy groceries, and my friends have taken it to buy supplies for their art classes. 

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Weekend shopper bus approaching in parking lot of shopping center

Weather permitting, it's also possible to increase your mobility on a bike. Many students have bikes on campus, because they make it possible to get from New South to the E-Quad, for instance, when you only have a 10-minute change-over between classes. There is also a biking route down Alexander Street and Canal Pointe Boulevard that you can take to reach the shopping centers previously mentioned. When it's nice outside, I like taking a bike ride along that route to get to the Whole Foods to buy groceries. Most students store their bikes outside on the numerous bike racks outside the dorms. I cover mine with a plastic tarp when it rains. It looks a little ridiculous, but it does help prevent rusting!

 

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bicycle under gray plastic tarp

Getting around campus and town is one of the most enjoyable parts of my daily routine, and I never fail to appreciate both the buildings and the friends around me as I get from place to place. Furthermore, campus is becoming increasingly accessible to everyone, which you can find out more about from the AccessAbility Center. Additionally Parking and Transportation Services also provides information on accessible pathways and entrances on campus.  In summary, traversing the Orange Bubble is a simple everyday treat.


Building A Home Away From Home


 

The summer before college, I did a lot of preparing. Through dinners with family and gatherings with friends, the stinging pain of saying goodbye eventually softened to a dull ache.

As August slipped away, my suitcase began to fill while my bedroom began to empty. In my spare time, I read the pre-read. I dug through my drawers and pulled out my passport, which hadn’t seen the light of day for the past two years. When I boarded the plane to Newark, I knew that everything that was within my control had been taken care of. Yet, even with all this preparation, the most daunting question still lingered in my mind — how am I going to make friends?

Unsurprisingly, my first semester at Princeton was absolute social chaos. Between the heavy workload and extracurricular meetings, it was hard to carve out time to create community. I often had meals with people, only to never see them again. I talked to people at events, only to forget their names within a week. More than anything, nobody seemed to measure up to the friends I had at home. And of course they didn’t — I was trying to mold these strangers into best friends within days without realizing that this “ideal” friend group I was so eager to recreate had taken years of care to cultivate.

So, I did what any reasonable introvert would do — I spent the rest of the semester lonely. Oddly enough, it was during this time of loneliness that I started to find friendship. Winter break left me stranded on campus in a climate I longed to leave. And so I did. I gathered the courage to text that friend I only hung out with twice, and a week later, we were somehow in Los Angeles. For Christmas, I caught COVID, and we traded our itinerary for eating takeout on opposite ends of our hotel room. It was during this time that I really felt at peace. Stuck with nothing to do, I learned to appreciate someone’s simple company on its own. And although I spent that week lamenting our abandoned plans and pretending I didn’t have a banging headache, it was then that I finally began to see others without trying to shape them into someone I knew from home.

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Selfie of two woman and Shrek character, in front of a fantasy backdrop, with an outdoor restaurant visible on the left
Universal Studios during Winter Break 2021.

Spring found me spending my lunches in WuCox (a campus dining hall) at a table of engineering students (scary, I know). My one friend had extended into a whole group of friends. Even though we studied vastly different subjects, we found joy in doing the simple things in each others’ company. We grinded problem sets together and spent late nights rewriting our Writing Seminar papers in JRR (the Julius Romo Rabinowitz Building, which connects to the Louis A. Simpson International Building, home to the Davis International Center) — all the wonderfully chaotic first-year experiences. Outside of schoolwork, we screamed in support at each others’ performances (my friends are crazy cool dancers) and played card games over the weekends.

 

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Seven people stand on a stage, in front of blue lit backdrop
Watching the Princeton University Ballet x eXpressions collaboration show.

When Spring Break rolled around, and the seasonal depression started to ease, I found myself on another trip, but this time with six others (and no COVID!). We spent that week visiting art museums, making a mess in the kitchen of our Airbnb, and eating copious amounts of Chinese food. As we walked through the streets of Philadelphia at night, I realized that I had come a long way since the fall semester. And while Princeton isn’t quite the same as home, I’ve started to carve out a special space for it in my heart.

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Six students jump in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Jumpshot outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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Six students stand in a kitchen with white walls, grey cabinets behind them and a white refrigerator to their right
Baking contest with friends over Spring Break 2022.

To Find a Home


As an international student from Haiti, I have always been aware of my national identity, especially when traveling abroad. The first time I visited the United States, I realized how my Haitianness was not just a label, but had tangible and observable consequences for how I integrated spaces, how I was perceived and what kind of learning, unlearning and resistance I would have to perform. When I decided to commit to Princeton in April 2021, this awareness was front and center in my mind. Would I find my belonging without compromising who I was at my core? I wanted college to be a space for growth, but I didn't want that growth to come at the expense of my authentic self. I wasn't averse to challenging myself and being uncomfortable, but at what cost? I knew there were many affinity groups on campus that intersected with my national identity that would help me protect and nourish what I thought to be my identity. What I didn't know whether or where I would find a home. I carried these questions and doubts with me on the plane.

In the fall of my first year, I attended an event organized by the African Students Association (PASA). It was an event of delicious food, traditional board games, music and fantastic atmosphere! There were people from diverse backgrounds: first-generation immigrants, international students from the African continent or the diaspora, black students of all backgrounds, generational African-American students, and all those beautiful and complex intersectional identities. I immediately felt at home! I understood the humor, people laughed at my jokes, the music was engaging, the energy electrifying and the food seasoned. I felt seen and welcomed as part of a larger community. At that moment, my national identity made space for my other identities to be. I became part of something greater: a cultural community.

I experienced the same feeling over and over again. It was not just happening at PASA events. It happened at the movie nights organized by the Davis International Center. It happened again at study breaks with other first-generation low-income students. And again at the weekly dinners of the Society of African Internationals (SAIP). And again at the game nights organized by the Black Student Union (BSU). Over time, I came to see community, identity and belonging as dynamic concepts that can only be spoken of in plural. So far at Princeton, I have learned to see myself as more than Haitian. I have been encouraged to recognize and explore other aspects of myself. Other identities that make me who I am. I stopped chasing this single community where I would feel at home and instead welcomed the idea of ​​belonging through multiple communities and spaces. Thanks to a variety of student groups, only some of which I have officially joined (I am now the Vice-President of PASA), I was able to feel at home. Today, my Haitianness remains an extremely important part of who I am and of what drives me. Yet, I have found peace and joy in knowing and accepting that I am much more than that, however proud I am to be Haitian.

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Two friends in front of a lake in Seattle

A Guide to Grocery Shopping for "Independents"


Princeton dining options expand greatly at the beginning of junior year. All first-years and sophomores are required to be on the University unlimited meal plan, meaning they dine at any of the residential college dining halls. Beginning junior year, students are no longer required to be on the meal plan and can select from several options: joining an eating club, joining a co-op, staying on the meal plan or becoming an "independent."

An "independent" is Princeton-speak for someone who is not on a University meal plan nor a member of an eating club or co-op. There are a number of reasons for choosing to be an independent, from not wanting to pay eating club dues or meal plan fees to simply wanting to cook for yourself. I live off-campus and have my own tiny kitchen in which I love to prepare my own food, so becoming an "independent" was definitely the best choice for me. 

What options are there for grocery shopping and eating out for independents? My favorite grocery store is Whole Earth Center, a hippie-granola type place that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, prepared foods and other interesting healthy finds (I recently bought some sort of strange-looking kale and goji berry crackers). Whole Earth is located about a 10 minute walk from the Engineering Quad (E-quad), so it's incredibly convenient for me. They also give a $1 bike discount if you ride your bike.

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The front of Whole Earth Center grocery store

Another grocery store I frequent is McCaffrey's, which is a more standard grocery store. McCaffrey's is larger than Whole Earth and has a greater selection of items, but in my opinion the produce section at Whole Earth is superior in terms of quality and price. McCaffrey's is a little farther than Whole Earth Center (about a 20 minute walk from the E-quad, between 5 and 10 minutes on a bike), but is still easily accessible.

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Front of McCaffrey's grocery store

On every other Thursday in the winter and every Thursday in the fall and summer, the Princeton Farmers' Market brings together local vendors of fruits, vegetables, breads, nut butters and baked goods. The summer market is held in the parking lot of the Dinky train station, right near Forbes College. I would highly recommend New Jersey strawberries if you're on campus during their peak June season.

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herbs and flower display at Princeton Farmer's Market

There's also the Weekend Shopper, which is a bus that runs throughout the day on the weekends to the shopping center on Route 1 that has a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's. 

Regarding eating out, there are a number of affordable restaurants in Princeton to eat or get takeout. My favorite restaurant is Arlee's Raw Blends, where they make fantastic wraps that I'll grab when I don't feel like cooking. Some other student favorites include Planted Plate (a vegan restaurant), Jule's Pizza (flatbread pizza), Tacoria (tacos and burritos), and Nassau Street Seafood (fish and chips).

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Store front of Arlee's Raw Blends

It should also be noted that all Princeton students get two meal swipes per week. Overall, I find that there are a number of great options for independents to eat, and I would encourage anyone who likes to cook to consider it.

 


A Guide to Free & Cheap Things at Princeton


I think people fail to emphasize the “broke” part of the phrase “broke college student.”

That is why I am writing this article: I was once you, young grasshopper. Now, I am happy to share what I have learned in my year of navigating Princeton and discovering the best ways to procure free and cheap things around campus. 

To start, here is a list of things I’ve gotten for free (or cheap) during my time at Princeton: a mountain bike, a bike helmet (to go along with the bike), a sewing machine, a six piece glass Tupperware set, an iron, clothes hangers, a mini fridge, a fake plant (which is thriving), a real plant (which started dying the minute I bought it), a saucer chair and multiple mirrors.

I do not list all of these things to flex (I just did), but rather to showcase what is possible.

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A fake plant that has large, green leaves and is in a white pot.
Doesn’t she look so ALIVE!? Email name suggestions!

Here are the resources I’ve used:

1. TigerRetail

TigerRetail is a website where Princeton students can sell items they don’t want/need. If you pay attention to the listings, there are often items listed for free, or whole moving sales being advertised.

It is easy to fall into the trap of buying things I didn’t need just because it was a good deal, but otherwise I love TigerRetail.

2. Move-In Resale

At the beginning of each school year, Student Government puts on a resale event, where they sell second-hand dorm items. The only things to keep in mind are that the sale tends to sell out fast (so you need to stand in line at least 1-2 hours in advance) and if you intend to buy large furniture, make sure to bring people with you who can help you carry it.

3. Helping Seniors Move

Of COURSE you should help seniors/your friends move out of/into their dorms just out of the goodness of your heart. That said, it’s also a sweet bonus that while you are helping them move, you’re in the prime position to alleviate them of any items they may no longer need. 

4. Move-out

Move-out is the perfect time to score any of the bigger/more fragile dorm items (think mini-fridges, mirrors) if you’ll be staying on campus for the summer or you have a place to store them. The key here is to wait a couple weeks after people start sending “summer sale” emails if you want anything for free: eventually these dorm items will just be discarded all around campus and you will be able to take them for free.

5. The Free Food Listserv 

This listserv is a gift from the heavens. All it is an email list where people send out emails whenever there is free food being given away. Google “the Princeton freefood listserv” once you have a Princeton email to find instructions on how to subscribe.

 

I have two tips when it comes to these resources: First, negotiate, negotiate, NEGOTIATE! If an item on TigerRetail or someone’s student sale says that it is negotiable, don’t be ashamed to suggest a different price and see what happens. Second, when all else fails, ask around to any group chats you’re in to see if someone may be selling/giving away the item you desire.

 

That’s it from me, folks! Which of these resources are you most excited to utilize? If you end up using any of them to get free stuff, I’d love to know!

 


Dead Week


Today, I leave my room to go for a walk, and the campus is dead silent. Not like everyone-is-in-class sort of silence, no, more like no-one-is-here sort of silence. 

I go to read a research paper in Firestone library and I have a whole reading room to myself. Strange. I walk down campus to the Wa (Wawa) to buy something for lunch, and I see two people at most. Maybe three. You know, there is a name for this sort of silence on Princeton’s campus. It’s called dead week. 

What’s dead week? Dead week is the week after classes and exams are done and before the start of Reunions (an event where alumni return to celebrate their time at Princeton). During this week, lots of students like to leave campus for short trips. But because we’ll be playing at Reunions, a good amount of the Princeton University Band stay on campus, and host social events so everyone feels connected.

I want to share some of the memorable moments with the band.

The band leadership put a lot of thought into the events they created, and they were all pretty creative. This year, all of the events were created around the theme of holes! Is that theme very random? Yes! But that was also kind of the point hehe.

Some of the social events included a scavenger hunt to find the hole-related locations of the campus, a pool day (pool = a hole in the ground), a Powerpoint party and plenty of band meals (since the dining halls were closed).

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A veggie burger with onions and lettuce sits on a paper plate next to some potato chips.
The food was delicious and meeting the band alumni was an amazing experience.

The next event was an alumni barbeque we had towards the end of the week. The food was delicious and I got to meet all of the band alumni going back decades. I also met three couples who had met through the band and are now dating, and it was super sweet to hear their stories.

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 A fleet of white golf carts.
A fleet of golf carts around campus in preparation for Reunions. I just had to snap a pic!

When students stay for Reunions they typically help the Reunions committee with various event set-up responsibilities and the members of the band were given the task of hanging posters around campus. I got to use my months of poster-hanging skills from back when I worked in the Office for Religious Life, and I got all of my posters up in what could be considered "record time".

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White lettering on a door reads “Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall.”
The whole band met in front of Richardson to get our instruments before walking over to our gig!

The last event was actually a gig we played in an alumni tent near Richardson Auditorium. It was nice to see how happy our performance made alumni, and any opportunity I have to execute well-timed cymbal crashes is a win for me!

I am super grateful that I got to spend this week bonding with the band. It was a way better than staying in my room alone all day, that’s for sure. What sorts of things do you like to do the week after school ends?