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Yale Club of New Haven (YCNH) Seton Book Awards Program

by Melanie Ginter ’78, Former President, Yale Club of New Haven

The Yale Club of New Haven is lucky to be right where it is, in New Haven. Many area students, however, feel that Yale is too close to home, and they do not apply. Even more discouraging is when they apply only to end up going to Harvard or another Ivy League school. It is difficult to see these bright and talented local area students go elsewhere, especially for a Club that focuses on the importance of Yale ties to New Haven and vice versa.

Somewhere along the line, we decided to take full advantage of our closeness. We decided to use our book awards program as a tool to help find the best and the brightest students from the area and convince them to apply to and to come to Yale.

The Yale Club Seton Book Awards were endowed in 2001, during Yale’s Tercentennial by Phyllis Seton and the late Fenmore Seton ’38, long-time supporters of the Club. We include a breakfast reception, a tour of the campus for students and parents, a separate session with an admissions officer for high school guidance counselors, and most importantly, our student panel. Students and their families may also stay for lunch. We draw from 38 area high schools and award a book of the student’s choice to the student and also a copy to his or her school library. Phyllis Seton comes and personally shakes hands with each winner.

Unlike most other Yale clubs, we hold our book awards in the fall, at the beginning of the students’ senior year. Most other clubs choose the spring of students’ junior year. We feel the fall is the most critical time because that’s when they are deciding where to apply. We also take advantage of our closeness by holding the reception in one of the residential college common rooms. Unfortunately, we also have the disadvantage of having to convince local students that Yale really is a world apart from their homes, even if they live three blocks from campus!

Our student panel is the key to persuading students to come to Yale: composed of a freshman counselor and four undergraduates from the New Haven area representing each year of the four years at Yale, the panelists are often our own Yale Club scholarship winners. They speak freely and knowingly of the advantages of staying close to home and attending Yale (easy laundry service) and the disadvantages (parents who give hugs on the street if they bump into each other!), and their own concerns when they applied.

Year in and year out, when I ask how many of the book award winners have never been on campus before, four to six students raise their hands. Many of them have not even considered applying to Yale. It is always gratifying to persuade these students to apply, and we keep track of how many of our book award winners apply, are accepted, and matriculate. Our numbers are pretty good and our successes come back to us in many ways. Let me illustrate.

Several years ago, Aaron Zelinsky, a local student who is a double legacy, that is, both his mother and his father were Yale undergraduates, was not even interested in applying to Yale. His older sister attended Yale and loved it, but when it was time for him to apply to colleges, he was not considering Yale. His parents were not happy with this. Chosen by his school as our book award winner, Aaron attended the Yale Club Seton Book Awards and freely admits, “The panel on the Yale Book Award was instrumental in getting me to apply and to attend.” Not only that, but his brother, Josh, came to Yale the following year. And his parents, each of them, became Lifetime members of the Yale Club of New Haven.

Each year, there is a story like Aaron’s and each year we are proud and pleased to persuade these young scholars of the joys of Yale, even if it is awfully close to home.

I can’t wait to see what this year’s book awards will bring. And I know someone who would make a great panelist…