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Welcome to Cloud Nine, a chic slopeside cabin in Aspen, Colorado where the elite drink champagne over lunch with celebrities, dance on tables and play credit card roulette, a game where one patron picks up his party’s thousand-dollar tab.

This is where Wharton freshman Garrett Cayton spent his winter break. 

“Every day at 2 o’clock they just turn up the music and people start buying Champagne and spraying it everywhere, and all of the adults go down the mountain, rolling over drunk. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

This is typical in Aspen, which Cayton describes as “a very crazy place. People go party in nice restaurants. Everyone eats at Nobu, Cache Cache. Every store there is a designer store. It’s just completely ridiculous.”

Cayton is among the more modest of the extravagant vacationers. He mentioned one mountain club, of which his family is not a member, which charges a $100,000 entrance fee. “I don’t know why you’d pay so much money just so you could pay more money to eat there,” he said.

Cayton had a lot to say about the nightlife in Aspen. “For a ski town it’s pretty good,” he said. “The concert hall there is just a hundred people and we get a lot of big names. They opened up an L.A. club, Bootsy Bellows, and that place is also just really ridiculous. It’s a lot of middle-aged guys who spend crazy amounts of money on tables and drinks. Especially on Christmas, it gets packed with celebrities who want to be in the scene.”

Cayton's parents do not frequent these clubs. “My grandfather is not into being over the top and spending a lot, but that’s a big part of the culture in Aspen. My parents tried not to raise us that way,” he said. Cayton's maternal grandfather was not born into money. A Holocaust survivor whose family did not survive the war, he started as a window washer, invested his money and turned pennies into a real estate empire.

Cayton's more humble family is the exception, not the norm in Aspen. The population, Cayton explained, mostly falls into two categories: the hardcore skiers and the hardcore partiers. “There are no fast food restaurants, [it’s] very concentrated with tourists of a certain population.”

This is certainly not the case in Phillipsburg, N.J., where College freshman Gabrielle Jackson spent her winter break working as a team member at Chick-fil-A .

“The Chick-fil-A opened in March, so I worked there from like day one,” Jackson said. “In terms of skills, I know more and I’m still paid minimum wage despite working there for two years — but let’s not get into that. They can pay me the same, but legally being over 18 I can work as many hours as I want.”

And that’s what she spent her winter break doing. “My sister worked a 12-hour day, I maxed at eight,” Jackson said. “I worked almost every day.”

Most of Jackson’s work was in the front of the restaurant. “I did register mostly, drive through headset, which makes the drinks and the ice-cream, like the desserts,” Jackson said. “So if you ever go to Chick-fil-A, don’t get a milkshake, because we hate making milkshakes. I did the window, which was cold. We had a jacket and a fan that blows hot air, but it was still cold. I bagged orders and I cleaned.”

Jackson’s winter wasn’t all work and no play. “ I hung out with friends a lot, I spent way too much money at restaurants, especially Chick-fil-A,” she said. “My friends have this thing where we go to Applebee’s half-priced apps when Applebee’s apps are like 4 dollars or 5 dollars.”

While both live in the quad, Cayton and Jackson each experience a different side of Penn.

“Penn is very frat-centric,” Cayton said. “All the downtowns, anything I get slipped under my door, it’s probably some sort of fraternity. Everything at Penn that I’ve interacted with has been through frat life.”

For Jackson, socializing means getting together with social groups like the Penn Government and Politics Association and hanging out with hallmates in her residential program. She’s not planning to join a sorority and doesn’t go to fraternity parties because she finds them “too impersonal.”

Despite their differing backgrounds, Cayton and Jackson’s perceptions of Penn were remarkably similar — both described their social groups as relatively homogenous. Cayton spends time with a small group of friends who predominantly hail from New York’s Upper East Side and Los Angeles. Jackson met friends, many of whom are ethnic minorities hailing from working-class families, at a multicultural event before Quaker Days.

Both describe their transition to Penn as eye-opening.

“Before I came to Penn I asked my parents for money, because I was like, ‘I’m going to be around a lot of rich people, I’m going to need money’ ... they didn’t give me money, for the better, I guess. I see a lot of Facebook people going to really expensive restaurants and I’m like, ‘cool, I’m just going to go to Wawa’,” Jackson said.

Cayton's transition was just the opposite. “My high school was almost completely private, West Side kids, Penn was much more diverse. I have friends who don’t want to go out with me because they like to eat in the dining halls and I like to eat at Chipotle. There’s a big difference between how people approach their social lives, especially at Penn, and that’s something you really have to be aware of,” he said. “Not everyone would want to go to a nice BYO downtown, or, you know, ‘Let’s all plan a vacation trip to Miami over Spring Break’ because that’s not within everyone’s price range and I feel like in high school people didn’t really think that through.”

Penn’s student body is the fifth richest in the world, according to, an online blog, with 30 percent of Penn families making over $250,000 in annual income. Meanwhile, 47 percent of the current freshman class receives financial aid with student grants averaging $41,700.

The income disparity on campus “allows different worlds to collide, it allows people to see different lifestyles, maybe bring people together,” Cayton said. “On the flip side of the coin, I don’t know if the exclusiveness makes people at Penn feel left out or marginalized.”

While the University can’t make this wealth gap disappear, it is working on bridging it.

“There may be students who have to make choices on the types of things they can go to because of the resources they have. We know that there’s a certain percentage of the student population on this campus that doesn’t have to worry about that, but that’s not unlike the world outside of Penn,” Director of Financial Aid at Student Financial Services Joel Carstens said.

“This isn’t something that’s going to be resolved by the University of Pennsylvania. We’re not designed to solve that kind of disparity,” Carstens said. “What we can do is learn to manage that process.”

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