April 19, 2006: On the Campus

Illustration by Mariko Jesse, photo by Celene Chang ’06

Exam fever; Facebook stats

By Elyse Graham ’07

At six-thirty on a mid-March evening, Nathan Edgerton ’07 broods over an economics textbook in Firestone Library. Six other students sit along the same hallway, their notebooks haloed under desk lamps that cast dull light up the limestone walls and arched ceiling. They are actors in a biannual ritual that raises campus fear and dread: midterm week, when a sense of anxiety spreads over Princeton, scattering students to all corners of the campus in a round-the-clock frenzy of cramming.

Edgerton says he studies best in open spaces like those in Firestone, which remind him of the flat, open landscapes of his West Virginia home. There is no best time of day to study, he says; what’s essential is to be in the proper mood — “panic.”

Across campus, Shannon Lee Clair ’09 sits at a window desk in her well-groomed dorm room, typing a paper on comparative religion. She writes in spurts, pausing to consult a written outline and peer at the sky through her leaded-glass window. Writing a paper is like “crossing a stream on little wobbly rocks,” she says. “Some rocks are sturdy, some are slippery, and some you just want to get across really fast.”

Later, in an upper-floor classroom in Frist Campus Center, students in the Princeton Pre-Business Society spread a seminar table with chocolate chip cookies and Cream-O-Land milk, ready to soothe the nerves of work-frazzled members of the group.

Erika Kaneko ’07, a Woodrow Wilson School major, tells of scoring 90 out of 100 on a recent statistics exam. “When [the professor] releases the average, with the standard deviation, I’m only in the 71st percentile. That puts me at the bottom of the threshold for A’s.” She adds, “I calculated that from what I learned in the course.”

“That’s what sucks about academia,” jokes Nicole Velasco ’08. “It gives you the tools to calculate just how bad things are.”

Across Washington Road, in Jadwin Hall’s Brush Gallery, mathematics majors Ian Petrow ’07 and Howard Nuer ’07 sit by a blackboard, working on a problem set. Jabbing a pencil across the room at two students huddled over computers, Petrow says, “Those guys haven’t slept for weeks.”

Outside the evening deepens to black, then pales as a full moon rises. Wind grumbles in the oaks, while students hurry along paths that cross campus. Behind them lurk the craggy shades of dorms, where arches are empty but every window glows.

Students head for the Frist food gallery, where they purchase pizza slices as large as ceiling tiles. One floor up, 1,500 pieces of sushi swiftly evaporate at a Class of 2008 study break.

The hour of 1 a.m. passes. Beside a long picture window in the Frist reading room three floors up, students fill rows of tables, drumming on laptop keyboards. Across the campus, platoons of students keep on typing, frowning, squinting, and softly groaning, into the night.


Like most of collegiate America, Princeton students are infatuated with the social networking Web site Facebook.com, which allows users to browse photos and profiles posted by others at their school, and to create their own profiles embellished with photos, lists, and rants.

For minds curious about the online personae of today’s Princeton students and alumni, an advanced search utility allows browsers to compile data about key words, interests, and particular groups. A feature called “Pulse” also lists trends among members, updating every week. From these, we have compiled a small index, with the caveat that Facebook is constantly changing:

Top five books among Princeton Facebook members: Harry Potter, followed by The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye.

Top five movies: The Shawshank Redemption, Lord of the Rings, Garden State, Fight Club, Gladiator.

The most popular activities include sleeping, reading, dancing, and watching The OC. Percentage who “love eating” who also “love cooking”: 52.

Percentage interested in literature who are in the sciences: 36. Percentage interested in science who are in the humanities: 5.

Relationship status: single, 500+; in a relationship, 500+; “it’s complicated,” 197.

Politics: “very liberal,” 405; “very conservative,” 64.

F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17 meter: number who like The Great Gatsby, 349; This Side of Paradise, 84; Tender Is the Night, 28; Tales of the Jazz Age, 5; The Love of the Last Tycoon, 3. end of article


Elyse Graham ’07 is an undergraduate fellow at Mathey College.

MORE ON THE CAMPUS online: “Getting in; tuning in” by P.G. Sittenfeld ’07, click here.


To read our exclusively online On the Campus column, click here.


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