President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
The Good Old Summertime
October 20, 2004
Summer is not what it used to be. Fifty-five years ago, President Harold Dodds spent July and August in the United Kingdom, and Professor of English Willard Thorp observed that “tourists must have thought Princeton University had gone to sleep.” This summer, in contrast, tourists may have wondered if Princeton ever sleeps!
Conference and Event Services is a beehive of activity from early June to late August, as director Eric Hamblin and his staff, bolstered by 20 energetic students, handle the logistics for a host of summer programs that brought some 13,000 men, women, and children to campus this year. At the peak of this benign invasion, each of the 3,000 available dormitory beds was filled, and the staff of Dining Services was feeding people in shifts.
The common denominator in the 135 programs we hosted this summer was an educational impulse that is consistent with Princeton’s own commitment to foster the growth of knowledge not only among our students but also in society at large. Whether our summer visitors are high school football players or police chiefs; whether they are with us for one day or two months; whether they hail from Abruzzo, Italy, or Elizabeth, New Jersey, all are encouraged to take advantage of the remarkable intellectual and material resources that exist at Princeton.
Most summer programs are conducted by our own faculty, staff, and students, but the great majority of participants have no affiliation with the University, at least for now. In this sense, summer is a prime time for giving substance to Princeton’s informal motto of service to our nation and all nations by providing an intellectual or—in the case of our popular sports camps—physical stimulus that day-to-day life cannot confer. These programs also introduce participants to a world-class educational institution, giving them the insights and, in many instances, the confidence they need to pursue their educational dreams.
It would take an entire issue of the PAW to do justice to all the activities on our campus this summer, so I will limit myself to three that I know well. The first is The Daily Princetonian Class of 2001 Summer Journalism Program. Founded and directed by four former editors of the Prince, Richard Just, Rich Tucker, Michael Koike, and Greg Mancini, all members of ’01, the program is designed to encourage gifted high school students from some of the East Coast’s and Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods to develop their journalistic skills and acquire the mindset and tools they need to apply to selective colleges and universities. In August, 20 young men and women spent 10 intense days producing a newspaper from a temporary newsroom in the Friend Center, attending workshops on journalistic writing and news production, and even taking a practice SAT.
I had dinner with these fledgling journalists, whose curiosity about the world was impressive. In the course of one meal we discussed primate evolution, global warming, the war in Iraq, the relative merits of the Yankees and Mets, and how to choose the right college! Whatever the future holds for them, they reported that their passion for journalism had only strengthened since the first day they set foot on campus. Their brief exposure to Princeton sharpened their ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, to question conventional wisdom, and to capture the moment in words.
Far different in focus, but equally rewarding, is the Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Molecular Biology, which gives our students and a select number from other institutions a chance to immerse themselves in the life of a research laboratory. Sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, this nine-week program had 77 participants this summer, most of whom were laying the groundwork for their senior theses. Under the guidance of our faculty, they investigated a wide range of problems, which they shared with one another through weekly research discussion groups. Until I moved to Nassau Hall, this program was one of the highlights of my summer—when my students tackled everything from genomic imprinting to the genetics of schizophrenia—and I know that the intellectual growth that took place then, as now, is a crucial factor in their future success as scientists.
Finally, no summer would be complete without Princeton Summer Theater. In a miracle of teamwork, the 13-member company, most of whom were Princeton students or alumni, staged four plays and one show for children, including a production of David Auburn’s Proof that was every bit as compelling as the version I saw on Broadway. Led by artistic director Jed Peterson ’06, the company included four students who have attended the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre School, which is indicative of the professional standards and aspirations of the entire company. Noteworthy, too, was the return to Murray Theater’s stage of Geoff Peterson ’69, Jed’s father, who, with Chuck Bernstein ’67 and Jon Lorrain ’69 and the support of Stuart Duncan ’50, had founded Summer Intime, Princeton Summer Theater’s predecessor, in 1968. Truly a family affair!
As I write, the varsity athletes are beginning to arrive for pre-season warm ups, and the Outdoor Action and Community Action leaders are preparing for the arrival of the Class of 2008 in a few days. Although I can only dream about President Dodds’s English sojourn, summer is still a time for rest and relaxation, thank goodness. But for thousands of Princetonians and non-Princetonians, this summer was also a time to develop their talents amid the beautiful and stimulating surroundings of our campus.