Class of 2024 attends Oceantation

The event felt ‘representative’ of the class, despite unforeseen circumstances

Traditionally, MIT students visit the aquarium twice in their undergraduate years as part of class-organized activities: once in their first year, prior to the start of classes; and once in their senior year for “Disorientation.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Class of 2024 did not attend a freshman-year aquarium trip in 2020; to that end, a junior-year aquarium trip had been a keystone in Class Council President Penny Brant ’24’s presidential campaign last spring. 

Juniors were able to purchase New England Aquarium tickets for themselves and an optional plus-one for $8 — 40% off from regular MIT student price.

Event planning

Planning for the event began in June, when the council reached out to possible event venues, Brant said in an interview with The Tech. Following a class-wide survey — in which respondents indicated preference for the aquarium over options like a formal or a trip to the Roxy’s A4cade — the council began planning logistic specifics. The survey garnered approximately 400 responses, which Brant called “a pretty good sample of the class.” She also noted that there was a “big disparity between interest” for the aquarium and other events. 

Part of logistical planning included negotiating on the price of the space rental with the aquarium; while the eventual total cost was “around $30,000 between venue rental and catering,” the price had been negotiated down from $46,000 over a few months. 

Brant and Class Council Treasurer Paul Irvine ’24 also pointed out that the cost of the standard freshman aquarium trip is not borne by the freshman class council. By contrast, Oceantation was paid for by the Class of 2024’s budget, adding a layer of complexity to the planning process.

The event itself included catered dinner, a tent outside the aquarium intended for dancing, a polaroid station, a raffle for plushies, and custom postcards featuring artwork submitted by members of the Class of 2024. 

While Brant and Irvine were unable to provide an exact number of attendees due to WiFi issues that rendered them unable to manage electronic tickets, Brant mentioned that they had expected “around 500” attendees (with estimates based off of the Class of 2023’s Disorientation attendance), and that close to that many students had RSVP-ed. 

The Class Council plans to send out a survey soliciting feedback on various aspects of the event, according to Irvine; in particular, the form will “ask people about their experience at the aquarium, as well as learn how some last minute changes might have affected student experience.”

Unforeseen circumstances

Brant shared that “there were some last minute changes that happened at the venue for certain reasons,” with Irvine adding that the council was not notified previously of the changes and therefore “advertised some things” that didn’t come to fruition. 

For instance, the catering company charged by the aquarium to deliver food “had a labor strike” that resulted in only some of the advertised food being delivered, and an advertised cheese wheel missing. Also, though stingray petting was a planned attraction at the event, “the stingray steward was sick,” and the event featured penguins instead. 

A Harvard University student and plus one at the event “got into the fish tank” despite fences, signs, and a security guard surrounding the tank, a penguin steward reported to Brant. Brant stated that the council was talking to MIT’s administration about “how to best sort this complicated situation out,” that it was a priority to make sure “that everyone, both the student and the fish” were well, and that the administration is “talking to the aquarium about possible actions from here on.”

While the council rented out the space from 7–11 p.m., Brant said the aquarium locked gates at 9 p.m. without prior notice; and, some of the exhibit lights were turned off at 9 p.m. “for the fish to sleep” (though the exhibits were still open to everyone). 

Event takeaways

Despite the logistical challenges, Brant and Irvine felt positively about the event at its conclusion; Irvine remarked that he spent most of his time taking polaroid photos of attendees and that “it was really cool to see all the friends coming together.” Brant reflected on the walk to the aquarium, saying that a highlight of the night for her was staying behind at Kresge to walk over to the venue with “sixty members” of the Class of 2024.

Brant closed by saying “while there may have been many last minute changes, in some way that’s representative of us as a class. We’ve always found a way to thrive even when unexpected changes happen and that’s just who we are.”