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To get into one of Harvard's nine final clubs, there is no application. There is no interview and there is no comp.
Instead, there is a secretive process called "punching," and it begins every October and ends around Thanksgiving.
For all involved, the punch is a series of social events--outings and barbecues--where members get to know "punchees," or prospective club members.
"We sit around, eating food and telling jokes," says one club member. The student, like the others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It's like having dinner with a professor, but the topic of conversation is not very intellectual."
The punching process is different from a fraternity or sorority rush in that final clubs must initiate the process; a student must be invited to punch.
And while punchees and members say they use the process to meet people they might not ordinarily come in contact with, they also say the punch is a relatively closed process. The hundreds of people punched every year usually have club members as friends.
"Members deliver invitations to the door," says a punchee. "It is not a random process. They punch people they know, and those who would be good for the club."
For those who do not know many people in the club, chances of being asked to join are slim, punchees say.
"I will probably be the first victim because I don't know too many members," says one. "It's frustrating that if you don't know anybody in the clubs you don't get punched, but I understand why it is that way. There is limited space in the club, and the police would be on them if it was an open punch."
Starting the first weekend of October, the punch begins quietly. Invitations to the first event are slipped under a punchee's door by members.
Clubs like the Fox and the Owl have outings to alumni houses at Cape Cod, while clubs like the Delphic, Porcellian and the Fly traditionally have held cocktail parties as their first event.
Members identifiable by the club tie mingle with close to 100 punchees during the first event, a party not unlike any other, says a punchee. Porcellian members wear ties with white wild boars on a green background. Fox members' ties have small foxes.
"The only difference in this party and other parties is that the music is quieter, the people are in coats and ties and there are no women," says the punchee.
Following the first gathering are outings for all the clubs, again allowing members and punchees to get to know each other. The last stage is the final dinner where elections for club membership is made. Throughout the four-to-five week punch period, members and punchees meet for lunch in small groups.
After each event, club members review each punchee and decide whether to invite the punchee to the next event. The more events a punchee is invited to, the more likely it is he will be elected to join, says a club officer.
The number of punchees is whittled down to the 15 to 20 openings, and "a lot of luck" is needed to be invited to join, says one punchee.
Punchees say they withstand the punching proces because of the promise of a better social life if they join. Final clubs offer a social structure that Harvard does not provide, says one club member; students can bond in an environment that crosses house and extracurricular lines.
"Social clubs are ways of meeting people," the member says. "Harvard is lacking a center where people of all classes can get together."
"A club offers a place to hang out," he adds. "Clubs do provide a social life."
Some members say that joining a final club means much more than an active social life. For them, it is an entrance into a support group of alumni. But other members say making connections has little to do with their decision to join the clubs. In fact, they say, clubs have policies concerning networking. At one final club, under-graduates are forbidden to request jobs from alumni.
"Whatever network exists, exists between guys you become friends with in the club," a member says. "Graduates come back to have a good time, [not to give jobs]. They want to extend their college life a little bit more."
"Making connections is a bunch of shit," says one punchee. "My two brothers who were in final clubs had a good time in college but it didn't make a difference when they looked for jobs. I think people overrate it."
This weekend, many punchees begin the third stage of the process. Those who pass the second cut will move on to another outing or barbecue and will continue to have lunches with club members.
But most punchees interviewed for this article maintained a casual attitude about the process, enjoying the punch while it lasts, but saying they will not be too disappointed if they are cut.
"Personally," says one punchee, "I'm looking at it just as a way to meet people and have fun."
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