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Mandatory Fun creates community in East Fairchild

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Cherubs gather in the projector room to prepare for Instructor Jeopardy. Photo by Ashley Dong

When Hannah Lee of Fullerton, California, first saw the words “Mandatory Fun” in all capital letters on her schedule, she said she thought it was the community and academic associates’ “twisted idea of bonding.” 

“How fun could anything mandatory be?” she said. “Those are contradictory.” 

The 84 cherubs showed up to the game lounge on Friday prepared for a night of foosball and pingpong. Community and academic associate Nicole Markus walked in with a vanilla cake while the other two CAAs escorted Uma Rajan of Haworth, New Jersey, Cate Hewitt of Los Angeles and Charlene Jiao of Vancouver, Canada, to the front and led a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” 

Following that celebration was a series of surprise birthdays throughout the program, elaborately planned by Markus with help from CAA Juliet Allan. 

“Nicole is the birthday fairy,” Allan said. “I’m her assistant.” 

Markus added all the birthdays on the calendar and is in charge of organizing the celebrations. 

“It is absolutely necessary for me to decorate doors and celebrate everyone’s birthday,” Markus said. “Juliet and I have it down to a science.” 

Allan begins by blowing up three purple balloons while Markus creates a homemade envelope and handwritten card, which are hung up on the cherub’s door at midnight. The following day, the CAAs pick up cake or cupcakes. 

Many cherubs said the celebrations made them feel less alone. 

“I thought I was all by myself and in a random place with 83 strangers, so I had no expectations,” Lee said. “That was a pretty pleasant surprise because it’s kind of a message saying, ‘Oh, we care about you enough to celebrate your birthday. We noticed it, and we’re going to celebrate it with you.’” 

In addition to birthdays, Mandatory Fun nights have included events such as Instructor Jeopardy, a talent show and karaoke. 

Ashley Dong of Orinda, California, won the talent show by belting out “Home” from “Beauty and the Beast” as the cherubs swayed to her rendition of the song and waved their phone flashlights.

Dong said she thought the other performances were “very lovely to hear,” including Ingrid Smith of Austin, Texas, on the fiddle, and Sara Rooney of Vienna, Virginia, singing “Vienna,” one of Dong’s favorite songs. 

“I just think it was sweet and everyone was so supportive,” said Allan, who said the talent show is one of her favorite memories. 

Despite Mandatory Fun’s intimidating name, Smith said it’s how she’s formed some of her core memories at this program. 

“I love Mandatory Fun every time I see that on the agenda,” she said. 

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