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Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

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Seniors celebrate at rousing Class Day ceremony

At a rousing celebration of Class Day Monday, Princeton's senior class members reflected on their experience at the University and bestowed honorary membership on four of their heroes.

The four awarded honorary membership in the class of 2001 were: comedian Bill Cosby; retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Bruce Wright; Harold T. Shapiro, who retires as Princeton's president this month; and Shirley Tilghman, who has been selected as the University's next president.

Cosby's presence made history because he was the first Class Day speaker from outside the University. He made amusing off-the-cuff comments throughout the ceremony, delighting the seniors by poking fun at them for lugging laundry home to their parents and expecting their parents to pay their parking tickets.

As they head into the real world, Cosby told the students in his address: "There's a great deal of pressure on you. I know, I've seen the eyebrows go up. What school? Princeton? And people expect you to fly."

But he had advice on how to deal with those expectations. "What are you going to do?" he said. "Well, don't worry about it.... You'll get the signal, and what you'll really be proud of, be very, very proud of, is the work you were forced to do here, the work you had to do here, because it's going to show up once you decide to apply yourself to that which you want to do."

Theodore Nemeroff '01, who introduced Wright during the ceremony, cited the judge as an example for his classmates. Paraphrasing the University's motto, Nemeroff said, "We are honoring a man who has truly lived in the nation's service and in the service of all nations, who has challenged himself intellectually throughout his life."

Wright was born in Princeton and was accepted to the class of 1939. But when he arrived on campus, he was not welcomed.

"Evidently, the admission office did not know that Judge Wright was African-American when they sent him his letter of admission," Nemeroff said. "Thus when he arrived and they discovered this fact, the dean of admission called him into his office and sent him home, saying, and I quote, 'If you're trying to come here, you're going to be someplace where you're not wanted.'"

Wright went on to graduate from Lincoln University, a traditionally black school which, Nemeroff noted, was founded by Princeton alumni. He received his law degree from New York Law School in 1950 and joined the firm Proskauer Rose, where he represented jazz legends Billie Holiday, Max Roach, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

Wright served as a criminal and civil court judge from 1970 until 1982, when he was elected a justice of the New York State Supreme Court. The judge, who retired from the bench six years ago, also is the author of several books, including a memoir called "Black Justice in a White World."

Also during the ceremony, several students spoke about their Princeton experience and looked ahead to the future.

"I know our class will do great things, because we already are," Maxwell Anderson '01 told his classmates. "It is fitting and right that we now fix our attention not on great achievements, but on great friends."

Anita Konka '01 said, "I firmly believe that to the benefit of our peers and to the future of Princeton, every one of us has made some kind of mark here, every one of us has enhanced this University by contributing ourselves and our personalities."

She continued, "I may not have a clue what I want to do with my life, but I do have confidence that Princeton has prepared me and has allowed me to grab my future and whatever it holds by the horns."

Justin Browne, senior class president, remembered to thank the seniors' parents, who filled the bleachers on either side of Cannon Green and the sun-drenched seats behind the seniors. "For all the sacrifices you made to get us here and see us through these past four years, I now speak for the entire class when I say thank you."

Princeton's graduation activities culminate June 5 with Commencement ceremonies at 11 a.m. on the lawn in front of Nassau Hall.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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