Columns, Opinions

Calvelli ’19: Let them wear lanyards

Staff Columnist
Monday, October 22, 2018

Now in my fourth (and final) year at Brown, I thought nothing could surprise me. Naked people with donuts? Sure. Neil deGrasse Tyson chilling on Simmons Quad? Boring. Yet on a recent dreary mid-October day, I was proven wrong when I saw not one, but two first-years with lanyards around their necks.

That’s right. We’re more than a month into school, and the lanyards haven’t all been relegated to the pockets of history. Yes, there are still first-years strutting across Pembroke Green, unaware of the silent ridicule they are subjecting themselves to.

But a couple days ago, it hit me. Maybe these lanyard-wearing first-years aren’t the mockable ones. Maybe it’s me. Yes, I, a wise senior, steeped for four years in our lanyards-are-a-weird-orientation-week-freshman-fad culture, had it wrong. I now see that lanyard-wearers are unapologetically themselves, undeterred by a campus of hegemonically anti-lanyard conformity. Lanyard-critiquers like myself, however, have been stripped of our innocence and openness.

You might, dear reader, think that I’m overemphasizing the decision to place a goofy-looking necklace around one’s neck. Think again. The lanyard is a form of symbolic self-expression, revealing both the character of the one wearing it and the condescension of those judging it. On the surface, the campus is divided into the lanyard-wearing minority and the lanyard-averse majority; on the inside, we’re split into those freely expressing their purity and those pushed into insecure, jaded conformity by paralyzing perceptions of popularity.

Clearly, my fixation on lanyard-wearers indicates I have some repressed feelings worth exploring. When I judge them with some vague insult of ridiculousness, it’s possible (read: definitely true) that I’m projecting an insecurity that they have something I’ve lost.

To figure out what that is, I thought back to the last time I wore a lanyard: first-year orientation week. I have no recollection of why I wore the lanyard then. Perhaps, after moving away from my parents, the soft fabric against my neck was a comforting reminder of a motherly embrace. Perhaps in my fear of social isolation, I copied the superficial appearance of my peers who had yet to abandon their own lanyards.

It’s likely that I can’t remember exactly why I wore the lanyard because I didn’t have a conscious reason. Caught up in the thrill of being at Brown, too unaware of aesthetic norms to realize I looked silly, wearing the lanyard was just something I did.

In those first few days on campus, we occupy a liminal space between our past selves and the people we will become at Brown. Unschooled in Brown’s culture, unthinking of much beyond “adjusting,” in the early lanyard days, we have a beautifully authentic naivete. It is not the self-possessed authenticity we gain as we grow as individuals in college. Rather, it’s a blank-slate authenticity, where we enter a new world unsure of what to make of ourselves and our surroundings and in that uncertainty, we are forced simply to be.

Soon we grow out of the lanyard, and over time we transform from wide-eyed first-years into quasi-adult, fully-fledged Brunonians. That transformation is mostly good: We learn about ourselves and the world, meet lifelong friends and integrate into this special college community. Seniors, in general, don’t wish they were first-years.

Still, I think something important is lost as Brown culture infuses itself into our identities. No longer are our college lives mysteries waiting to be unfurled. The possibilities of what Brown could be become memories of what it was, the dreamscape entered by walking through the Van Wickle Gates punctured by late nights in the library, broken hearts and that one November morning two years ago.

Today, I barely recognize that nervous, hopeful Aidan with a ratty Brown lanyard. Yet as my brain is occupied now with thesis research instead of the Sharpe Refectory lunch menu, I’m struck by how rare that first week was. We join a new community, excited and terrified to together embark on a journey of self-discovery with contours we genuinely cannot predict. And though we might not have known it then, our lanyards were a critical step on that journey, a symbol of a simpler time, one imbued with seemingly infinite possibility, unmarred by practical tribulations, embodying a beautiful innocence.

So, when we see first-years bearing lanyards, we would do well not to judge, for they share a spirit that time has stolen from our grasp. To all the lanyard-wearing first-years I’ve pitied in my head, I’m sorry. You, in some inexpressible way, know yourself better than I do. Maybe it’s you who should be sorry for me.

Aidan Calvelli ’19 is not at all insecure about the person he’s become at Brown. Why do you ask? Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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