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Prompted By Cliques and Clubs

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One of my high school yearbooks – I am in 3 of the pictures

High School

In high school everyone knew it was important to join lots of clubs, because it looked good on your college application.

In high school everyone knew it was important to join lots of clubs, because it looked good on your college application. So I did. Some of them I was actually interested in, and others not so much. To refresh my memory about what clubs I had joined, I went back through my old yearbooks to see where my picture showed up. Here is a list of the clubs I was in for one or more years.

–History Club
–Spanish Club
–Drama Club
–Orchestra – always an activity, not a class
–Chorus (some years called Glee Club) – also always an activity
–Newspaper
–Literary Magazine (created when I was in 10th grade; apparently I was one of the founding members, according to what people wrote in my yearbook that year)

There was also an unofficial card-playing club, in which bridge was played if four people showed up, and hearts if there was any other number. This might have been a clique rather than a club, but I don’t think anyone who wanted to play was excluded – they might just have been intimidated by the regulars.

Chorus and Orchestra were both more like classes than clubs, they were led by a teacher, and there wasn’t any socializing, it was all about learning the music and then performing it.

History Club was the best actual club, because in addition to the usual activities, every year we took a three-day trip to the East Coast Model United Nations (ECMUNC for short). It was a fun weekend, and each year we got to play the part of delegates from a different country and go to a different host school somewhere on the East Coast. The one I remember best was my first one, in 9th grade, when we went to Newburyport, Massachusetts representing India. To prepare for being Indian, we went into New York to visit the Indian Consulate and the real United Nations. We also learned how to make saris, getting a suitably long piece of fabric and draping it in just the right way. There was at least one boy in our delegation, and he probably wore normal clothes, but the girls had a great time parading around in our saris all weekend. The next year we went to Syracuse, New York to represent Bolivia and Upper Volta. My junior year I think we were China, because I have a memory of having balloons that said “Mao is Now.” For my last ECMUNC, senior year, we were Iraq, but I only know that because it says so in my yearbook. What I do remember from that year was that it was held at Georgetown University, and for our Saturday night dance the band was the Lovin’ Spoonful!

My high school was too small to have any cliques (30 kids per grade to start, only 24 in my graduating class). There were certainly friend groups, but those could and did change at any time. As far as I know, everyone was invited to all the parties — although I suppose that if there had been parties I wasn’t invited to, I would never have known about them.

College

At Harvard-Radcliffe, people just joined clubs because they wanted to, not because it would look good on graduate school applications, and in general they were open to everyone. The exception to that was the Final Clubs, which were very exclusive and posh, but they were just for men, generally wealthy, white, Protestant men. If you believe The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg was crushed by being rejected from one of the Final Clubs, and that’s why he created Facebook. I never knew any men who were in Final Clubs, because we just would not have had the same values or interests. As far as I know, there was nothing equivalent for women.

Here are the clubs I joined in college:

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) – only freshman year, because the guys in charge, even though politically radical, were male chauvinists, and I didn’t feel valued. My involvement ended after we occupied University Hall.

Students for Participation Politics – don’t remember any more what this was, but I listed it in my yearbook as one of my activities.

Radcliffe Choral Society – this was by far the best thing I did in college. It was selective, you had to audition, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get in. I switched from being a second soprano to being a first alto, because I had heard they needed altos. I was thrilled to be chosen, and I have sung alto ever since. It turned out to be a wonderful refuge from all the craziness of college life. We performed in Cambridge and a few other locations, we cut a record (which I still have), we went to Tanglewood in the summer and sang with Leonard Bernstein. The only thing we didn’t do, which they did in the years before and after my time, was go on an international tour. That was sad. I am still close with friends I made in Choral Society, and during this pandemic year the current group has invited alumnae to join them on Zoom and even sing with them, which I have done several times.

Adult Life

In my adult life, I have been in several choirs (although usually only one at a time), two book clubs, a mah jongg group, and the Harvard Club of Sacramento. The only one that is a closed group is one of the book clubs, because there are eight of us in it, and we wouldn’t want it to be any bigger. However, over the course of the years that I have been in it, members have dropped out at different times and then been replaced by someone new who is invited by one of the remaining members. I can’t think of any instance where someone has been proposed for membership and the others have turned her down. (To join the Harvard Club, you have to have a degree from Harvard, but I can’t imagine why anyone else would want to be a member anyway.)

I have never joined, or even been interested in, a private tennis or golf or swim club. When my children were in elementary school, many of their friends belonged to a fairly low-key swim-and-tennis club in our neighborhood, but since we had our own pool, I didn’t see the point. In retrospect, it might have been nice from a social point of view. But the idea of having to get in the car and drive someplace to go swimming, rather than just walking out into the backyard, seemed unappealing.

During the years that my kids were on the bar/bat mitzvah party circuit, I got to see a couple of the fancier clubs because some of the evening parties were held there. Obviously these must have been clubs that allowed Jews! Fun to see what they were like, but it didn’t make me want to join.

My daughter Molly went to Whittier College, a school founded by Quakers, which prided itself on not having a Greek system. But it turned out that they had something called societies, which were a lot like fraternities and sororities, with bids, and pledging, and initiation. She attended a few introductory meetings, but quickly decided that she was not interested in being in that kind of exclusionary group. I would have supported her if she had chosen to join a society, but I was proud of her for deciding that she wanted to be more inclusive!

 

 

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great anthology of clubs you have joined — and a few you have not — during your lifetime, Suzy. Really impressive, both in terms of your eclectic memberships and non-memberships and your current research into them.

    I must say your History Club in high school was most impressive. What an amazing, immersive experience it offered, especially at that early educational point. (Though, if you had been just one year ahead, you could have seen the Lovin’ Spoonful at our freshman weekend in college.)

    And, not surprisingly, I am equally impressed with your general view of social clubs and the ones you would not want to join, starting with your similar disdain for the Final Clubs. Good, too, for Molly for inheriting your views of such exclusionary groups. You are right to be proud of her!

    One question relating to your title. My own research uncovered several songs over the years titled “Welcome to the Club.” Which one(s) did you have in mind?

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. Yes, the Model UN was by far my most valuable experience in high school, so glad I had that opportunity. And I knew you would bring up your own connection to the Lovin’ Spoonful. Since it was spring of ‘68 that I saw them at Georgetown, and that was the same year you had them at Harvard, I wonder if they were on the college circuit then.

      I was referring to “Welcome to the Club” by Joe Walsh (of Eagles fame), which came out in 1974. I usually try to use a song from “our” era, if I can find one. Now I will have to check out the other songs with that title.

      • John Shutkin says:

        You’re exactly right about the Lovin’ Spoonful. I was on the Freshman Jubilee Weekend Committee (another sort of club, no?) and, with the other co-chair of the concert sub-committee (no clean-up committees in college), we booked them over Christmas vacation in ’67 when we went to the William Morris Agency in NYC. And the person we dealt with said that they were putting together an East Coast college campus tour for the Spoonful and this would fit in just fine. We co-chairs even got to pose with the Spoonful for a photo just before the concert; yet another photo I’d kill to find again.

        • Suzy says:

          I don’t remember having a Freshman Jubilee Weekend my year. Either it didn’t happen because of the strike, or it was just for Harvard men and their dates, and I wasn’t invited.

          • John Shutkin says:

            Jubilee (check out the lyrics to “Fair Harvard” and you will see the reference to “jubilee”) was a dying tradition by our freshman year, even though we somehow pulled it off. I believe that was the last one. And I can’t imagine that it would have happened the next year and you would not have been invited!

  2. Suzy, why am I not surprised at how involved and activist you’ve been in your life! And what a delight to have sung at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein. And here’s something funny – my son was in Model UN in high school representing Upper Volta!

    But what resonates most with me is your book club – I’m in (gulp) six!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dana. You might want to check out my story “To Sing In Perfect Harmony” which has a couple of paragraphs about the Tanglewood experience, and the program from the Bernstein concert as my featured image.

      My two book clubs must seem insignificant compared to your six. One of mine meets every month, but the other one, hosted by my rabbi, only meets about four to five times per year.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I also represented Bolivia in the Detroit-area version of the MUNC. Funny coincidence? I also agree about SDS and other political groups during my college years — very few women in the decision-making. So great that you found the Choral Society and a lifelong love of singing. Book clubs are strange in that they are a bit like cliques. When I retired, I was invited to join one by a good friend, but had I wanted to join a different one I’m not sure what the protocol would have been.

    • Suzy says:

      I love that you also represented Bolivia in your Model UN. Who knew we would turn out to have that in common! I agree that book clubs have the potential to be cliques. I think it would be hard to join one without being invited by a member, but I also think it would be unlikely that you would even know it existed unless you were friends with a member.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    You joined an impressive number of clubs (or activities) during high school, Suzy. I understand why, and also why choir was the most fun. And still is! Model UN also sounds great. We had nothing like that at my high school.

    Interesting about the political groups at Harvard and that singing provided the best outlet then and now and how connected you remain to the women from that choral group. Sounds like a great bonding experience.

    Like you, we have never been club joiners. We were founding members of a club here on Martha’s Vineyard that got us access to a good restaurant in Edgartown, and a great workout facility close by as well, but one didn’t have to be recommended or accepted. One just joins. My parents didn’t belong to a country club, so I never developed a taste for that life.

    • Suzy says:

      Do you think there is a distinction between clubs and activities? All of the high school ones I listed certainly felt like clubs except for chorus and orchestra, and chorus was even called Glee *Club* some years. But I wondered as I was writing. . . .

      My parents never belonged to a country club either. You’re right that that could make a difference as to whether one had a taste for that life or not.

  5. Marian says:

    Great recap, Suzy, and I enjoyed all the similarities and differences from my high school and college days in particular. We did have a Model UN that a lot of my friends were in (interesting that many of them became lawyers), but I spent a lot of time in Masquers, the drama club.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Mare. The drama club at my HS wasn’t very memorable, although according to my yearbooks, I was a member. The drama activities in college were way above my skill level. I was in the chorus of a couple of operas in college, that was the only acting I did.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Over time, I think most people hold onto the activities or clubs that mean the most, and the rest counts as exploration. While much of our lives may be defined by family and career, the “extra-curricular” activities may be just as, if not more, important for nurturing friendships and interests, and creating a strong civil society. It is tragic when music, arts, and “non-essential” opportunities are cut due to funding problems.

  7. Quite an organizational showing, Suzy! I was particularly interested in your description of SDS. By the Harvard strike it was going downhill fast toward Days of Rage and Weatherman and the disastrous split. Testosterone. After 1969, SDS was no longer a viable org.

    Woulda been fun to see you guys traipsing around in saris!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your explanation about what happened to SDS, I had forgotten or maybe never realized it. Wish I had some pictures of us in our saris – I have just made contact with someone else from that year’s Model UN, so I will ask her if she has any.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    The comment on cuts came from the fact that you clearly enjoyed music in particular, as well as the student UN, and those are the sorts of programs that are most in jeopardy when budgets get tight. Your experience validates their importance. It makes me sad to think of the students who miss out.

  9. Yes, it was a sad split, SDS, not necessarily an end whose time had come. And, yes, there was plenty of gender crossover (Bernadine Dohrn, Kathy Wilkerson) but it seems in retrospect [sic] that the Weather Underground pulled the life out of the long game SDS hoped to play. I think I almost got it right in Gates of Eden.

    Remember that old song? Who’s sari now?
    https://youtu.be/i9QEAtcz3o8

    • Suzy says:

      I love the way you portrayed the whole movement in Gates of Eden! I need to reread that amazing book, it’s been a few years.

      Thanks for the link to “Who’s sari now?” 🙂 Connie Francis is my hometown girl, and one of the greats!

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