The scene is Straus Hall, the cramped Georgian dormitory at the Yard’s edge that brought these students together nearly four years ago. The Straus A entryway that convened in the fall of 2001 is reuniting for the senior champagne brunch at Annenberg Hall, an annual tradition that offers soon-to-be alumni a chance to dine with freshman friends and remember the turmoil and tumult that mark Harvard’s first year.
“We’re such a bunch of overachievers, aren’t we?” laughs Caleb I. Franklin ’05, this year’s first class marshal, the equivalent of senior class president, and a former resident of Straus A-31. Among this year’s graduating seniors, Straus A produced several prominent campus figures ranging from a cappella singers to Crimson Key officers, newspaper editors to budding entrepreneurs, and academic stars of all kinds.
But today the focus is less on GPAs and resumes and other fixations of senior year. Instead, inside jokes and anecdotes are the topics of conversation, as the Straus A veterans recall the scandals and scuttlebutt that defined their time in the Yard.
“I remember being shocked that they would sleep in the same bed!” says Eunpi Cho ’05, recalling one notorious incident of dormcest.
“Were you there when he picked up the chair and threw it across the room?” Franklin asks excitedly, referring to a former roommate.
For many seniors, this is the first trip back to Annenberg since the wide-eyed days of freshman year. The brunch, like many senior events, evokes a strange inconsistency: a lurking sense of being just a little old for all the Harvard pomp.
Students clutch champagne in one hand and plastic trays in the other, wading through the vaguely embarrassing rituals of freshman dining: long lines, poor food, awkward conversation. With seniors making the transition from dining halls to cocktail parties, sparkling cider to fizzy champagne, breakfast for 1,600 seems a step back.
Mahmoud A. Youssef ’05 wears a crisp white shirt and khakis as he picks over a green salad and sips from a plastic flute of champagne. He’s performing double duty today, meeting with his former Straus A compatriots for the first hour and then jumping behind the bar to serve up bubbly, part of his duties as a senior class marshal.
Youssef is used to this type of multi-tasking: at Harvard he’s served as business manager for the Callbacks, vice president of the Crimson Key Society, and taken Spanish and Russian, earning a language citation in the latter. Originally from Staten Island, the economics concentrator will be returning to New York this summer when he starts at Goldman Sachs.
Despite his achievements, Youssef’s reputation in Straus A stemmed less from extracurriculars than a certain incident involving a stolen box of snack cakes.
One fateful afternoon, Youssef returned to his room to find a formerly well-stocked box of Drake’s Ring Dings completely empty. “There wasn’t a single Ring Ding left,” he recalls, apparently still grieving the loss.
Not one to forgo his just desserts, Youssef jumped into action. In a nod to Martin Luther, he tacked a page-long note up on his door, demanding the return of the cream-filled chocolate cakes.
In Annenberg, the story is a hit. “He was so angry about it!” Franklin yells, barely containing himself. Youssef’s face turns pink. “The rule of courtesy is to at least leave one,” he says.
So who stole the cakes? All eyes turn toward Edward “Eddie” L. Jones II ’05, Youssef’s Straus roommate and a varsity wrestler. “Hey, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me,” he says with a lopsided smile. But the glint in his eye tells a different story.