April 23, 2003: On the Campus

United we stand
Welcome to Princeton, all you nerds, dorks, and brains

By Noelle Muro ’06

Illustration: Ron Barret

A few nights ago, I had a revelation of magnificent proportions. My roommate and I were finishing a calculus assignment due the following morning. We were poring over one problem in particular; both of us were writing furiously as we tried out every method of integration known to man to appease the fearsome gods of math, who would then bless us with a correct, or just reasonable, answer.

We filled pages and pages with equations, using enough algebra to make Pythagoras cringe, only to be brutally rebutted when we checked our responses with those in the back of the book. And suddenly, I felt it, a tingle in my brain, and it was as welcome as a light at the end of a tunnel. It was something I recognized; inspiration was on the way, dawning comprehension began to open my mind. As I pressed my pencil to the paper with renewed intensity, I said out loud that if I got the answer to this problem, it would be the most satisfying thing I’ve done in a long time.

Neither my roommate nor I got the answer, and after that, we gave up, but that’s not the point. The point is that in this crazed, calculating frenzy, I realized that if I was indeed doing this much work to get the answer to one basically insignificant problem, and enjoying it in the process — and believe me, I was — then I am truly, in heart and mind, a nerd.

So you think, “Well, who cares if she’s a dork? Why is this news?” But that isn’t it, you see; it’s much larger than that.

What occurred to me that night was that I’m no longer in the minority. I am not the only student who feels great pride in conquering a math problem and has fun doing it (or in this case, not doing it), or finding joy in reading and understanding the directions for a molecular biology lab, or even passing up going out in the evening to read a good book. In high school, these things might have made one an object of ridicule, but at Princeton, chances are that if you stay in to read, you’ll find plenty of company.

I think part of this has to do with the fact that we all had to be a little nerdy to get into Princeton, and we should never shirk this truth. I was speaking to my friend and hallmate the other day, and she told me how wonderful it is to be part of a community where you can share your knowledge and passion with pride and without fear of being looked down upon.

This is one of the few places where intellectual conversations about current affairs or biotechnology, or whatever your fancy, occur at the lunch table without sidelong looks. I’m sure everyone can remember how unfortunate it was in high school to be too timid to say the answer, or to acknowledge how much fun it was to read a particular text.

Here, students stumble over their words in an eagerness to share them with the class or the professor, and the fear of hand raising is gone. Inhibitions of dorkage can trouble us no longer, both in and beyond the college years. We are all “dorks” or “weird” or “brains” in some way, shape, or form. These words, these titles, no longer hold negative connotations. We have in common a place where the enjoyment of learning is part of the job description, and that knowing the answer, or sincerely wanting to know it, holds no shame for anyone. It is a beautiful thing.

This is the time for all of us to be proud of our dorkage, to celebrate it and to nourish it. Some of us have made careers out of it, others are still only discovering it, but the truth remains: Do not be afraid to let your pocket protector show, be it filled with pencils or paintbrushes! If you’ve ever used a chemical equation as a metaphor in everyday speech, be proud. If you’ve ever looked at a fractal and tried to imagine its equations, have no fear. If you’ve ever looked at a Slinky™ and thought of a) a DNA double helix or b) the wave/particle duality of light, you are not alone. Princeton, past and present, is with you. Enjoy it.

This article was adapted with permission from one that originally appeared in The Daily Princetonian. Noelle Muro ’06 is from East Haven, Connecticut.



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