Winter (In)formal: It’s Time to Go Virtual

A group photo from one of last year’s senior class. Little did they know it would be their last high school dance. (Valdman)

Something that’s been sorely lacking in our dehydrated school environment is the usual mixture of awkwardness and hilarity that accompanies Lakeside social functions. As this is the December issue, it’s right to guess that I’m talking about things like Winter Formal (alternatively, Winter Ball) — though for a long time it’s been formal, or a ball, in name only. Much of my and my colleagues’ writing these past few issues has been about virtual learning and its immediate effects on the student body; however, the lack of opportunities for students to congregate and socialize en masse is hardly brought to mention. It makes sense when considering how the idea of mass gathering has been pulverized by longstanding COVID restrictions and poor attempts at virtualization, like past assemblies. Which comes to my point: social events are worth fleshing out properly, especially now. As such, something like a virtual winter dance would be a welcome addition to an uncertain calendar year, a cause of joy for many students, and a distraction from current events, and ought to be considered.


Since the best cases start from the beginning, I’ll trace out my argument. When I refer to the current environment at Lakeside school as “dehydrated,” I mean to capture the general feeling that seems to run through everyone I talk to: perpetual fatigue, comparatively empty days, tedium and delirium. Now, the situation isn’t all bad. Since the pandemic has been ongoing for some time, it seems like things have settled at a nice equilibrium, even with stressors like the election, continued COVID spikes, and sudden changes to the schedule at the forefront of discussion. Still, such a backdrop doesn’t bode well for our traditionally tight-knit community, and as the holidays come around, still cloaked in a mask and socially distanced, the longing for close company is bound to peak. It’s important to enjoy time with our families; I’ve certainly enjoyed spending an excess of time with mine. Still, the winter holidays are broader than that. They’re times to examine all of the bonds which make our lives meaningful. Enter Lakeside.


Much of the focus on socializing students, from both the administration and the Tatler — serving as something of an unofficial mouthpiece for the student body — has been on getting them back on campus. The pursuit of the blended learning ideal has been unending since the year began, but recently it feels like any iota of possible time teaching students in-house has become worth its weight in gold. Robots, people! There are robots at this very moment wandering around the halls of Lakeside school. And if we let our guard down… let’s just say running in those halls won’t be a problem in the future. Regardless, while it’s important to reintegrate students into a normal, physical school environment, the plans for doing so still leave out the crucial element of personal connection. Students will still be socially distanced the entire school day; each function, academic or otherwise, will take place in small, rigid groups. I acknowledge that such a model is inevitable if Lakeside is to start reopening before 2021. It just leaves a void which could be easily filled by something like a Formal.


Why a Formal specifically? Well, because it’s familiar, in keeping with Lakeside tradition, and offers a bounty of chances for students to pay homage to pre-COVID life. They could laugh together, and maybe join to eat some classic Lakeside foods, like assorted candy. They could engage in the kind of bustle which so many people, and I myself, long for. They could, more importantly than anything else, awkwardly shuffle back and forth to the music, building the quintessential Lakeside chain of growing two left feet and trying to leave the dance floor as quickly as possible. The benefits of an organized dance are numerous; some benefits are intangible. A Formal would encourage people to be more open in a way that’s become difficult, and do that by embracing technology like Zoom, for all its successes and failures. I imagine it looking like this: a few Zoom meetings (to cope with our huge count of 580) running, open for anyone to join. Inside each, breakout rooms hastily constructed to emulate the layout of the WCC, between which participants can jump. An emcee of sorts, overseeing the entire procedure and playing crowdsourced music in a main room. Taking the best of both virtual and physical learning to form a new, truly blended, learning experience: school is about more than just procrastinating Pecha Kuchas, after all.

As I’m writing this, Thanksgiving looms, and at time of printing, so will the winter break. Like I’ve said here and elsewhere, the holidays are times for deep appreciation of life. If America gets through this year, it’ll be nice to entertain that kind of retrospection. For the holiday season, Lakeside needs to commit to its dual role as educator: the only way we can be competent global citizens is by having rich social experiences. Key to that goal is a forum like a Winter Formal — though perhaps a better name for my suggestion would be a Winter Informal. I can already anticipate them: the groans of students, the onslaught of anxiety about joining a social event, let alone one hosted on Zoom. All I can offer is my best advice. Everyone who’d be too worried to attend a Winter Informal, take a look at these past few months, how things are going currently, and how they could turn for the better just by attending a social event to be with friends, new and old. That’s the essence of my idea. Original or not, all I ask for it is some consideration. Maybe coming together, in more than just the perfunctory sense, is the perfect remedy for the oncoming winter blues.