As most Champaign-Urbana folks know, this Friday is Unofficial. This fateful day was created at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and serves as being the “unofficial” St. Patrick’s Day that always falls on a Friday a few weeks before the real thing. If you haven’t witnessed first-hand the phenomenon that is Unofficial: congratulations, you’re probably a better person for it. Whether you purposefully choose to avoid campus on this day each year or simply haven’t gotten the chance to experience it in all of its alcohol and vomit soaked glory, here’s what you are missing out on:
Unofficial for students is comparable to Christmas morning for kids.
It’s the one morning of the year that getting out of bed early is fathomable. For a majority of celebrating students, alarms are set for any time between 5am and 8am. The night before is spent preparing: setting up kegs, buying alcohol, buying more red solo cups, and maybe even considering giving any table-like surface a wipe-down for the first time since move-in. After all, nobody likes to play beer pong on a sticky table.
Early morning boozing is no easy feat.
While most of us find it easy to throw back a mimosa or two at Saturday brunch, or maybe even a screwdriver for the ambitious, the drinking that occurs in the early morning hours of Unofficial is not that glamorous. Instead, the drink of choice for students ranges from any kind of cheap, hard alcohol to a sticky cup of flat, warm Coors light that has been dyed green in celebration. For most people over 23 years old, the thought of hopping out of bed and taking a few shots of cheap, room temperature vodka first thing may make your stomach churn and your head pound. But keep in mind that college students are a rare breed. For some, hangovers are not yet a struggle they face. For others, it’s all about repressing the memories of the last debilitating hangover they had. Regardless, students know there will come a day when it is entirely unacceptable to be heavily drinking at 8am on a Friday morning. This oftentimes makes the drinking easier.
Professors get it.
As the backbone of the university, professors and TAs have seen more than their fair share of students partaking in Unofficial activities. Why? Because it is not uncommon for students to take a break from their boozy festivities and head to their classes in order to maintain their good attendance record. Some professors understand that students want to celebrate, or simply do not want to deal with the possibility of students coming in intoxicated, and will cancel class for the day. Other professors deem Unofficial an ideal day to schedule exams. For the professors who continue on with the normal class schedule, it is not unheard of for them to kick students out of class if they suspect the students have been drinking. “Last year, I chose to go to my morning class and meet up with my friends afterwards. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol in my system, but when I walked up to turn in my assignment to the teacher, I ended up tripping over a kids backpack and fell right on my face. The TA immediately yelled at me to get out of the class,” business student and UIUC senior Cristina Way explained with a laugh, “it was extremely embarrassing trying to explain that I hadn’t been drinking, but her reaction was understandable.”
Don’t blame the frat boys (but just this once).
While U of I has one of the biggest Greek systems in the nation, it contributes little to the partying that takes place on Unofficial. That’s right- there are no fraternity parties blaring music while over served freshmen lay passed out on the front lawn. Instead, Unofficial is perhaps the one day out of the year when stepping foot inside of a fraternity makes sense. That’s because in place of booze at the frat houses is food- lots and lots of food. For the broke and the grocery-less students, it is surprisingly a great place to snag enough grilled cheese sandwiches to survive the next few days. The reason that these Greek houses are so quiet on Unofficial is because fraternities are not allowed to have parties. In fact, for most houses, alcohol can’t be in the hallways or any communal room for the entire day. Undercover cops and the Interfraternity Council make sure rules are followed by checking in several times a day and doling out harsh punishment to any house that breaks conduct.
Bars open at 11 a.m.
If you were hoping to get to KAMS bright and early for a nice whiff of their signature smell (Blue Guys and throw up), too bad. Previously opening their doors at 8am in years past, campus bar hours might make for a later start in the day for some students. For others, Unofficial has nothing to do with going to the bars. Most Unofficial celebrating takes place at apartments and houses, often shut down by the police before any real crowd gathers. The bar scene consists of U of I seniors and visitors who are over 21. On a campus that normally requires an ID stating you are at least 19 years of age to enter, Unofficial is the day that boosts that age up to 21 in order to enter. Trying to get into the bars with a fake ID on Unofficial is frowned upon by a majority of the student population and will be met with the general consensus that Unofficial is not worth the heavy consequences that result from using a fake ID. Even so, the bars on Unofficial are filled to capacity with little room to even move around. At certain bars, bartenders are now only allowed to let customers purchase a maximum of two drinks at a time. This greatly contrasts what Unofficial used to be like at the bars, when people would order 25-30 drinks at a time to hand out to anyone within an arms reach. While the bar scene is undoubtedly lively, most of the older students know it is a great place to go if you’re looking to be spilled on and bumped into. Oh, and also to be forced to converse with an extremely intoxicated thirty-some year old alumni who took the day off of work to come celebrate and tell everyone how much better the school was in their day.
If it ain’t your parents, it’s the damn police.
Over the last few years, Unofficial has been a big day for police to keep an eye on students. The rules and regulations for everyone on campus have changed, becoming increasingly strict over time. On Unofficial, the streets are brimming with police. While undercover cops patrol the bars and house parties, other police officers make their way throughout campus in paddy wagons, picking up intoxicated, underage students. Campus dorms have begun stationing police officers in the lobby to ensure no freshmen are trying to have parties in their rooms, or are coming back obscenely drunk. Having loud parties or people partying outside will bring in officers, which is why parties are much smaller and much more controlled than in years past. In fact, walking through campus on Unofficial is, more often than not, very quiet. You might see a gaggle of students in all green migrating from one party to the next, but for the most part, that is it.
Not even UIUC students want Unofficial visitors.
Where to begin with Unofficial visitors? If you ask any U of I student what their thoughts are on having people from other schools come for Unofficial, the response you get is similar to that of a child being asked to share their cool toy. Nobody really likes having all of those students from ISU or EIU come into town and try to take over the party scene. Most UIUC students find these visiting students to be much more reckless and out of control than their Illini peers since they’re only visiting for the day. Other kinds of visitors include those who have graduated, but still cling to their collegiate memories as if their lives depended on it. Most of these alumni often feel the need to go absolutely balls-to-the-wall to prove that they can still party with the best of them. This kind of alumni can often be found arguing with the bartenders or chanting, “Shots! Shots! Shots!” at any person within a two-foot radius of a shot glass.
Unofficial is now celebrated in other places.
Like some sort of widespread virus, Unofficial has popped up at different campuses, in different states, and even in different countries. While the celebrations at other schools may not mirror the same enthusiasm at UIUC, there is still a presence. Interestingly so, Unofficial traditions have even found their way across the big pond. In Dublin, Ireland, the celebration can be found within the Temple Bar area. These bars hold all-day parties that bring in hundreds, including students studying abroad who don’t want to miss out on Unofficial festivities.
We are going to do the exact same thing tomorrow.
For those who are “in the know” so to speak, understand that the University of Illinois has a unique Saturday schedule. When the football season begins, so does a thing called block. You see, most schools have tailgates and then attend their university’s football game. At UIUC, students cut to the chase by moving the tailgates to the bars and saving themselves the disappointment of watching the football game. This Saturday tradition ends once it gets to cold out, only to pick back up early in the spring semester. Block is a lot like Unofficial: it involves getting up and drinking all day, but the green apparel is swapped out for orange and blue. For most students, block lasts from about 10am till whenever they get tired and decide that grabbing some food on Green Street and taking a nap sounds better. Then, it’s happy hour and out for the night. Is it excessive? Yes. But there will come a day when we can no longer live this lifestyle. Luckily for us, today is not that day.
Being number one is all about balance.
Recently, UIUC was ranked as the number one party school in the nation. Perhaps it’s because students go out literally every night of the week. Seriously, bars are filled to capacity on weeknights until bar close at 2am. Or maybe it’s because of the Saturday block tradition. Or maybe it’s even due to Unofficial. Regardless, it is no secret that UIUC prides itself on being able to play just as hard as it works. Is that shameful? Should students be embarrassed to be known as such? Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion on the matter. Regardless, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that students care more about their partying than about academics. This is where people are completely and totally wrong. The University of Illinois ranks within the top percentile for their engineering school. Our physics and accounting programs are phenomenal. Students push themselves to unbelievable measures to do well in their courses and to make themselves more marketable for future careers. What students can find at this university is his or her own way to establish a balance. A balance between having fun and working hard. A balance between spending time with friends and spending time studying. A balance between becoming adults and still enjoying the freedom we have before we succumb to the 9-to-5-work day. This balance is something that teaches students to work their asses off, but also to have fun and to live a little. Unofficial may leave members of the community shaking their heads and wagging their fingers, but students will continue to do what they have always done: work hard and play hard.
Photos courtsey of Scott Wells.