December 4, 2002: From the Editor

One of the best-read articles in PAW last year — if you judge by Web hits and letters to the editor — was the June 5 story on Lillian Pierce, Princeton’s valedictorian. Like many students, Pierce sacrificed sleep and worked to exhaustion. Unlike many, she spoke publicly about how hard that was and how bad it felt.

The topic resounded, spreading from PAW’s letters page to the TigerNet parenting group and across dinner tables, including my own. Ultimately, Pierce accomplished what she set out to do, health intact, and left Princeton just as she entered it: a warm and unusually brilliant young woman who loves learning and shows it. Perhaps her story hit home because so many readers could identify with the pressures she faced, her drive to achieve, and her desire to take in all that Princeton could offer in four short years.

In this issue, PAW’s Kathryn Federici Greenwood looks at student stress and mental health — a growing concern on campuses across the country. At Princeton, the demand for counseling services is up dramatically, as is the number of students referred for psychiatric assistance. Nationally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-age students.

“I asked several students to describe their daily schedules, and their replies sounded like a session of Future Workaholics of America,” David Brooks wrote about Princeton students in his controversial article, “The Organization Kid,” in the Atlantic Monthly last year. “Crew practice at dawn, classes in the morning, resident-adviser duty, lunch, study groups, classes in the afternoon, tutoring disadvantaged kids in Trenton, a cappella practice, dinner, study, science lab, prayer session, hit the StairMaster, study a few hours more.” Many students, certainly not all, will see themselves in that description — smart, active, grabbing as much as possible from the Princeton experience — and utterly worn out.

I read Greenwood’s story not simply as an alum interested in Princeton’s student life, but as the mother of a four-year-old girl already bombarded with opportunities to take music class on Saturdays and ballet and gymnastics after a full day of preschool. I suspect many of you also will read it that way — as family members concerned about any child’s stress level and ability to cope.

On a different note, this issue of PAW also includes an interview with Edward Tenner ’65. Tenner has had one of the most eclectic careers at Princeton and perhaps in all academia, with appointments in Princeton’s English department and in its geosciences department. You may have heard him commenting recently on National Public Radio about the development of the reclining chair or read his statements in the New York Times about the history of the closet.

Here, he speaks about Princeton’s honor code, which was developed in response to rampant cribbing a century ago. Princeton at that time was not an achievement-oriented hotbed but, as Tenner explained in a recent lecture, a campus in which undergraduates “considered the faculty a rival team, and resorted to every technique at their disposal to defeat them.” So the students cheated collectively, sometimes working together to prepare crib sheets and concealing them in their clothing. And usually, it worked.

Photo: Edward Tenner ’65 (photo by ricardo barros)


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