May Ball committee members in the early hours of the morningBen Mulley

It’s 3am in the grounds of a Cambridge college towards the end of June and you’re flagging. Just two hours to go until the survivors’ photo, you tell yourself, munching on some pick 'n' mix while enthusiastic silent disco dancers surround you. Everyone looks like they’re having a great time, most likely sugar-high, coffee-fuelled, tipsy, or all three.

There are over twenty May Balls, June Events and garden parties which occur every June throughout Cambridge, making up the tradition of May Week (which did originally start in May rather than June). Attended by thousands of students and alumni, the largest of these events have budgets which stretch into the hundreds of thousands. Quite incredibly, these huge and significant occasions are entirely organised by students. This is an established norm, and you may well know someone who has been or is on a May Ball or June Event committee. However, many of us attend these events relatively unaware of what goes on behind the scenes. What culminates in a fantastic night of food, music and entertainment is the result of months of hard work, meetings, admin and more; all alongside a degree.

“It was a lot more work throughout the year than I thought it would be”

So why do people sacrifice so much time and energy to create these events, when they could simply buy a ticket, turn up on the night and enjoy? When I ask Zac Anderson what prompted him to apply to the Trinity Hall June Event 2022 committee, he is extremely honest. “The promise of free tickets,” he admits, while also expressing his desire to get more stuck into college culture as a fresher. As the music officer his role involved booking acts, negotiating prices and even some of the legal side regarding contracts. His preconceptions of what the commitment would be were very different to the reality. “It was a lot more work throughout the year than I thought it would be,” he says.

Corpus May Ball 2023Ben Mulley

Aless Catana, one of the food officers for last year’s Jesus May Ball, feels similarly. “It was mentioned to me that freshers literally never get on the committee,” she says, explaining that it was partly this ‘challenge’ that prompted her to apply. “I knew it was going to be busy… I just didn’t think that the end would be as busy!” she laughs.

Aless and other committee members were required to be in college every day, setting up for the whole week leading up the event, with only one allocated day off. It was one of the hottest weeks of the 2022 summer, and they were required to do some physical work such as painting and carrying heavy wooden boards. “It was a lot,” she says, stating that one day she was working on the May Ball set-up for almost twelve hours. “You did what your role required, but then you’d also pitch in with everything else.”

Her job didn’t stop for the actual night of the ball, either. Like most of the committee that year, she had very little time to enjoy the event that she had spent the vast majority of the academic year helping to put together. While juggling the many demands of her role as food officer, she was also asked to be on ticketing for “a little bit” after major problems with the queue into the ball, and ended up there for nearly two hours.

Corpus May Ball 2023 at sunriseBen Mulley

In spite of all of this, Aless does not at all regret being on the committee. It has given her a new appreciation for the event she attends, she explains, as now she knows something of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Likewise, Zac describes it as “empowering” to see the fruitful result of a year’s work. “I know that there have been changes made,” Aless says, regarding the working conditions during the week of the ball, and therefore is confident in recommending the opportunity to other Jesus students.

Bella Rawson, the Jesuan in charge of these changes, is (in my mind at least) practically a May Week professional. Currently holding the position of President for this year’s Jesus May Ball, she also worked as the treasurer for the event in 2022, an experience she describes as “trial by fire” and a huge undertaking in regards to handling such a large amount of money. When I ask her why she wanted to do it again – in a role that demanded even more than the previous year – she says that a key reason which prompted her to throw her hat into the ring for the job of president was having a desire to make improvements.


Mountain View

The curious case of Caroline Calloway

Because of her experiences alongside Aless in the previous year, Bella has made taking care of her 2023 committee a priority. Alongside balancing her own administrative and legal tasks as president, she has continuously strived to check in regularly with them and make sure they are doing okay from a welfare perspective. “It’s a really difficult thing to do,” she says of the rest of the committee’s roles. “If they have feedback, they have a supportive place to give that.”

When I raise the potential of there being external and internal pressures in attempting to match the level of previous years, Bella is quick to confirm that can be the case. “Always in the back of your head, you’re thinking you want to pull off the same event,” Bella says, “but somehow it’s got to be bigger and different.”

“It is an incredibly difficult juggling act to do”

When the two of us part ways, I am full of admiration for Bella and the rest of the committee. It is an incredibly difficult juggling act to do all that they have been doing, putting on such a large event with little to no experience while balancing the expectations of your friends and fellow students.

This year, when I’m inevitably flagging at 3am during Jesus May Ball, I hope I’m able to think of all the work that has been put in behind the scenes and remind myself to be incredibly grateful – not just to be in this city, celebrating the end of the year with my friends – but also for the many months of dedication that I know has come together to produce such a brilliant event.