President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
From Body Building to Bioengineering
October 22, 2003
“My angles are many. My sides are not few.” This is a quote from The Phantom Tollbooth, which Fred Hargadon often used to describe the admission process. It also aptly describes our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Take, for example, this year’s co-winners of the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize for exceptional academic achievement: Ruth Tennen, who is a member of the University’s Wind Ensemble, and Tudor Dimofte, who is co-captain of the ballroom dance team and head of a tap dancing group.
Ruth and Tudor are not unusual in blending academic excellence with passionate commitment to an extracurricular interest. There are more than 200 student organizations and activities on campus, ranging alphabetically from Acción Puertorriqueña y Amigos to Yavneh House. To get an idea of the diversity of interests, consider that the two most recently founded organizations are the Body Building Club and the Bioengineering Society.
Student organizations enrich the lives of their parti-cipants, but they also contribute to the overall quality of life and sense of community on campus. Even members of the faculty and administration frequently start the day with one of Princeton’s oldest student organizations, the Daily Princetonian, and we frequently end our days at student performances, productions, or athletic events of one kind or another.
Sometimes faculty are invited to participate. The Sympoh Urban Dance Troupe’s most recent concert included videotaped interviews with Professors Anthony Appiah and Cornel West and Provost Amy Gutmann on breakdancing. So far this fall I have been a panelist for a symposium on “Women in the Ivory Tower: Gender, Power, and Politics at Princeton,” which was sponsored by the Organization of Women Leaders, and I also had a cameo walk-on role with Fred Hargadon in Triangle’s shows for freshmen. I was able to manage the 9 p.m. performance without too much difficulty, but reprising my role for the midnight show was a bit of a struggle.
More often, I am an appreciative spectator of student talents. One of the most memorable occasions of last spring was the University Orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony in Richardson Auditorium in celebration of Professor Michael Pratt’s 25th anniversary as its conductor. Another wonderful experience was when I had a chance to watch the women’s lacrosse team lead up to its second consecutive NCAA title. More than half of our undergraduates participate in intercollegiate athletic competition and almost every week there are many opportunities to support the Tigers at a race, game, meet, match, or other athletic contest.
Many of our students are determined to make a lasting positive difference in their communities or in the broader society, and about 75 percent of undergraduates at some point in their careers at Princeton participate in community service through the Student Volunteers Council, Community House, and some 20 other service organizations. For some students this commitment begins even before they start classes. At a dinner at the Aquinas Institute in August, a group of freshmen participating in Community Action described to me their work with organizations in the Princeton area serving public schools and the elderly. Some of the most interesting conversations in which I participated last year occurred as part of the Sustained Dialogue program, which brings small groups of students, faculty, and staff together to discuss issues related to diversity. Early this fall the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, gave an address on campus after being invited to Princeton by students who worked for him last summer. The students are associated with an international organization called SPARKS that is building a coeducational merit-based school in Kabul.
Our mission is both to educate and to encourage the personal growth of every student. Student organizations allow students to explore a broad array of artistic, athletic, political, spiritual and intellectual interests while gaining valuable experience in organizing, managing, publicizing and producing activities. I am impressed by the ability of our students to meet our rigorous academic demands while also participating in such a range of activities and organizations, developing the many angles of their interests, and juggling with skill and dexterity sometimes complementary, sometimes competing, priorities (yes, there is a Princeton Juggling Club). I hope the next time you visit campus you will attend one of the programs sponsored or presented by a student organization. A full list is available on the Web.