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It was a quiet, stormy Monday morning on Knox’s campus, and the vast majority of students remained asleep in their residence halls, recuperating from Sunday night study sessions in the Gizmo. But in the first hours of sunlight, the sound of raincoat-adorned, upperclassmen Friars yelling and banging on pots and pans awoke the entire campus and alerted them of the exciting news: it was Flunk Day.
There had been a number of Flunk Day scares over the previous week, but a campus-wide email from the Dean of Students shortly after the Friars’ wakeup call made it official. Flunk Day is a century-old Knox tradition in which, on an undisclosed date, all classes are canceled, and students spend the day enjoying carnival games, rides, and live performances.
Even Adam Rothkopf ’22, a junior student with a breadth of Flunk experience, unexpectedly awoke to the 6:30 a.m. Friar calls across campus. “It was my first time getting woken up by them, and I was actually very excited about it,” Rothkopf said. “It was like a mob of joy.”
Other students, like Henry Williams ’24, were less enthused about the wakeup call. “I was a little unsure because of waking up early, and the Friars, and everything,” Williams said. “I was a little grumpy because I was tired.” But Williams’ mood shifted dramatically upon arriving in the fieldhouse and taking part in the vast array of carnival games and rides. “Honestly it’s gotten so much better since then,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun right now!”
Unbeknownst to most of the Knox community, the T. Fleming Fieldhouse had been entirely transformed in the hours preceding the arrival of Flunk Day 2021, affectionately referred to as “The Comeback Flunk.” An area normally used for pickup soccer and basketball games was covered in matted spaces for bean bag toss, painting, human billiards (a mini-arena with 16 soccer balls painted with numbers and bright colors), an obstacle course, a spinning Wipe-Out style machine called “Meltdown,” and a plethora of assorted carnival games.
Another first-year student, Archi Nokrek ’24, shared Williams’ shift in sentiment upon actually experiencing Flunk Day first-hand. “My favorite parts have been skipping class—thank you very much—being able to be weird without judgment all day long in public, and being able to spend time with friends,” Nokrek said. “It makes all the 6:30 Friar wakeup calls worth it. You wouldn’t think that it would be, but it definitely is!”
On the whole, students weren’t bothered by the rainy weather. Instead, they focused on the notion of simply sharing a lively social experience with the campus community. “I’ve seen more people than I usually have,” said Katherine Zhang ’23. “And so I realized, ‘Oh, this is the Knox community.’ It was one year of being isolated from everyone else and not really having the opportunity to get to know more people. Now that we're sort of back in it, I can actually see people and talk to people.”
Likewise, when asked about his favorite part of Flunk Day, J.J. Silander ’23 replied, “Last year was all online, so just to be here and to be present with everyone. It’s a great time so far, and there is so much more to come.”
And Silander was right. Most notably, the Flunk festivities consisted of Flunkposium—a tradition in which Knox philosophy majors engage in a lively debate about questions of the universe, an Indian buffet lunch served by local business Cornucopia, an evening music performance by Day Glow in Kresge Recital Hall, and a multitude of virtual events including comedy shows and games of bingo.
With the majority of the in-person events taking place indoors, Ford Walters ’24 was initially concerned about the safety of the student body surrounding COVID-19. However, the safety measures employed by the Flunk Day Planning Committee—as well as the entire Knox community—put him at ease. “It definitely gives me hope for the future,” Walters said. “Because I feel like having something like this is a testament to what we can do as a community. I see everyone has a mask on. I see everyone social distancing. Everyone is really coming together and having fun while in a pandemic.”
As the day came to a close, and with Commencement just weeks away, some of the senior students came to realize the gravity of the occasion: their final Flunk as Knox students. “It’s like a happy-sad feeling,” said Bennett Van Meter ’21. “It’s the last one, but it’s also so great because we got to do something and see everyone around campus. Honestly, I’m having the best time.”
Akash Patel ’21 echoed Van Meter’s sentiment, saying, “I think it makes the four years here complete. This Flunk tops the list; I can’t imagine the work that went into this, but we all appreciate it.”
As the echo of laughter and carnival games finally waned on campus, students began returning to their residence halls–exhausted but content. And although it will be another full year before the next Flunk rolls around, Adam Rothkopf explained that the immense joy and excitement that he felt surrounding Flunk Day was never about the day itself. “I think the most important thing to remember is to find a group of friends and to just chill out,” he said. “It’s not about doing something all day. It’s about truly experiencing friendship without the pressures of anything else in your life.”
See more Flunk Day photos on Knox's Flickr.
Published on May 20, 2021
"It was like a mob of joy." — Adam Rothkopf '22