Comedian Jerry Seinfeld gave a talk that ranged from the summation of the wisdom of his years to ruminations on how Life cereal got its name.
 

  
 
 
 
 
 

photos: Denise Applewhite

 


Princeton
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Comedian made honorary class member, seniors saluted at Class Day

by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann and Steven Schultz
A festive air filled Princeton's campus on Monday as the members of the class of 2003 gathered before family and friends for Class Day, a time to salute their accomplishments, have some laughs and thank faculty, staff and parents for helping them thrive during the last four years.

Photographs from Saturday's P-rade and Sunday's Baccalaureate Ceremony are available online.

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The graduating seniors got an earful from Class Day speaker Jerry Seinfeld, who lightheartedly harangued them about the inanity of cereal names and the poor quality of baseball stadium hot dogs.

President Shirley M. Tilghman welcomed the class members to their new status as alumni, giving a symbolic "key to the campus" to alumni class president Courtney Coleman. The key, Tilghman said, "allows you to continue to have a voice in shaping Princeton's future" and serves as an invitation to return to campus.

In several addresses, students reflected on the challenges and humor of their college experience and took time to thank their parents for helping them make it happen. "Whether it was driving us to baseball practice or piano lessons, teaching us to read or proofreading our college applications, mending a hurt knee or a broken heart, you have been a source of comfort, a source of strength and an inspiration to us all," said senior class president Catherine Farmer. "We do appreciate it more than any of us can say."

Awards for community service, athletics and leadership were presented to the soon-to-be graduates, who gathered under sunny skies on Cannon Green. Members of the faculty who are retiring were recognized.

Seinfeld opened his remarks by thanking the students for selecting him, "even though I cannot fathom in my wildest imagination how this could possibly be appropriate. Nonetheless, I am here, and in these changing times of cultural and political upheaval, education is perhaps the greatest pillar of our civilization, enabling us to make sense of the past as well as plot a course for the future. Which brings me to the subject of raisin bran."

Seinfeld went on to weave together observations about his mother, monkey bars, phone technology and the millennium, to roars of laughter. The comedian derided the use of instant polls on news shows "so we can get the opinion of people whose lives are so empty they have the television, computer and Internet all going at the same time.... Ladies and gentlemen, if life to you is what's online, on TV, on the phone and on your e-mail, I've got an instant message for you: Open a window. It stinks in here."

Before the ceremony students tossed boxes of Jujyfruits and Junior Mints to their classmates in a tribute to the TV show "Seinfeld," in which both candies played a role. And they named Seinfeld as an honorary member of their class, presenting him with a class jacket which he promptly put on. That honor was also conferred on A. Scott Berg, a member of Princeton's class of 1971, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a trustee of the University; Heddye Ducree, director of the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding; and the Rev. Sue Anne Steffey Morrow, associate dean of religious life and of the chapel.

Playing on the common anxiety among seniors over their job prospects and career choices, Michael Ritter urged his classmates to think of the word "employed" in a broader sense than having a paying job. "We will labor in offices, hospitals and classrooms, but that labor should lead us to perform even greater works, to leave our own indelible marks on the world as peacemakers and innovators, as passionate humans whose lives testify to the never-ending quest to perfect the world around us."

"So whether you will be teaching next year or consulting, volunteering in a foreign country or sitting at home waiting for inspiration and opportunity to strike, remember that Princeton has taught us how to be employed citizens of the world," Ritter said. "By the way, I am an English major with excellent interpersonal skills still looking for work in the paycheck sense, if anyone happens to care…," he added, raising peals of laughter from the audience.

Princeton's graduation activities culminate June 3 with Commencement ceremonies at 11 a.m. on the lawn in front of Nassau Hall.