Welcome to Homecoming, Grad School Style

Thursday, February 4, 2016
Editor’s Note: Our friendly neighborhood MamaM has moved on to greener pastures. While we will miss her motherly advice and tips for surviving school, we are excited to introduce our new advice, or at least advice(ish) column. “Rant Along With Ray” will feature rants, complaints, bemoaning and griping about the existential problems of life as a UCSF student — while always finding the brighter side too. We hope that you will appreciate an opportunity to share in the our collective student angst with comments on this column. For his first rant, Ray tackles our shared bewilderment at why the UCSF Formal exists, and why we keep going, year after year.


For months the school promoted the UCSF Annual Formal like it’s the high school dance you never want to miss. There’s been a mismatch of pep-rally like activities with the Dean in the beginning, some research days sprinkled in, but this may be the one and only “fun” activity to which the whole school is invited to.

With nothing else to look forward to, one comes to ask “what is the whole point of the dance?” Is it just a mess of overly worked grad students crossing all professional boundaries and grinding on each other while praying that they aren’t being judged?

Upon a quick search about the Formal, it’s been around for five years but other than that, you can’t really find a real reason as to why they’ve held the event. You would think that you’d find a flyer somewhere saying that it’s a great way to meet students from other schools or even to network. And maybe that was a reason in the beginning, but really?

You have a school where most of the students are on tight on finances, too busy dedicating their life to education and they gave us nothing to base this event on but a pretty picture of a castle. But to my surprise, people have gone and continue to go to this event. But for whatever reason it was, people just never seem to remember why.

The night of the event, as my group casually arrived about 30 minutes late, the party was already going on from the floor lobby. Given the advanced warning of alcohol prices, many people definitely made sure to come inebriated. The sloppy lines into the venue were swishing back and forth into amoeba coagulations as more and more people came crowding up the stairs. People were more interested in seeing each other’s faces than getting in so if you were sober enough, it wasn’t too hard for you to jump to a group of friends who are already close to the front of the line.

The check-in process was smooth, but as we slowly walked up to the two different dance floors, there was nothing out of the ordinary. It was just like high school, but instead of a tightly packed dark gym with a juice stand and a small photobooth, it was two dance floors with an alcohol stand and three photobooths. Great to see how much more $28 and a boat-load of school tuition money got me.

One of the dance rooms was large and spacious but clearly could have been filled with more people. I don’t even know why they had the other room. It was so brightly lit that you could see the sweat stains already forming on people’s backs.

But on the brighter side...

To be very frank, the music was... alright.

Everyone was dancing in their own little school cliques, no awkward intermingling or even an opportunity for people to ask if they could dance with anybody they didn’t know. No need for secret hand SOS signals to get you away from some creepy dancer. Just familiar faces and no interprofessional mixing.

The best part of this whole ordeal was that I couldn’t even see the much touted dessert buffet. Only after buying some overpriced drinks, I stumbled across a lonely white buffet table laid barren with leftover crumbs.

At the end of night, everybody was sweaty and tired and as we shuffled across the room with our hanging shirts, smeared make-up and bare feet we hopped onto an Uber to get some Farolito’s. It really was no different from any other club night.

In every way, the event was nothing spectacular. It was an expensive way to have fun with friends, invite your significant others to a glimpse of your busy school life or, even maybe even tell the world that you are no longer in that long-distance relationship, but all-in-all, beginning to end it was just another Saturday night.

The school had advertised a beautiful castle-esque venue with a supposedly amazing dessert platter, but what could you really expect. It wasn’t a Bill Graham concert with thousands of people who traveled across the country to spend hundreds to get half naked for some amazing music. It was a couple hundred students who took the Muni across town to party and have fun. If you set the bar low and it’s fun then good for you, but if it’s bad then at least you get what you expected.
After all, it’s never been the venue, the music or even the food, it’s always been the people and the pictures that we remember these by. To be honest, at least that was fun. How many times will I ever get to see my closest lab mates spill Jack and Coke on themselves only to start talking about how hot some of the upperclassmen are…

Now would I go to our Formal next year?

Well, I do have to make up for not going to my junior year prom.