September 10, 2003: From the Editor

Photo: Charlie Fisher, son of Kristina Chew ’90 (Kristina Chew ’90)

When Mark Bernstein ’83 first proposed a story on Princeton football legend Johnny Poe 1895 (cover story), it seemed a good fit for an issue that marks the start of the football season. But Bernstein’s piece is more than a tale of glory for sports fans. His interpretation of this campus hero is a nuanced portrait of a man with both staggering dreams and regrets – a portrait likely to tug at anyone who reads Class Notes and strives to meet the expectations of a life backed by a Princeton education.

Some of the incidents reported in Bernstein’s piece have been recounted in PAW before, notably in 1915, shortly after Poe’s death in battle in France. Poe’s classmates idolized this sportsman-turned-soldier, and the author of that early PAW profile – a classmate himself – portrayed a man who, in his pursuit of adventure, joyfully embraced life as no one else could.

“He showed those qualities of good sportsmanship, of loyalty, of self-effacing modesty, of transparent genuineness, of the warm heart, the impulsively generous nature, the clean life, the optimistic spirit, the love of humor, the sheer joy of living, and above all the reckless courage, which marked his romantic career,” wrote that author, PAW editor Edwin M. Norris 1895, in 1915. “Nearly all of [the] freshmen have followed the beaten path,” the writer said, with obvious regret, “but Johnny Poe was different. And perhaps more than any of us, he has realized his ambition.” One can imagine Poe’s classmates over the years, hearing of his adventures in distant fields as they went off in stiff collars to desks in law offices and insurance companies. Surely there must have been some envy mixed with their great love.

Yet, as Bernstein shows, Poe did not meet his own expectations, and failed to find the meaning and satisfaction he sought through his life – at least not until the very end. Despite his confident letters, the hero’s reports to family and close friends often were tinged with melancholy, as he jumped from one adventure to the next, finding little fulfillment.

Kristina Chew ’90 offers a different take on meeting expectations in her Perspective essay about raising a child with autism. Charlie, her son, was welcomed into the world in typical Princeton fashion: with a happy announcement in Class Notes, a Princeton baby sweatshirt, and jokes about following his mom to campus.

Six years later, Chew has learned to expect nothing – and embrace all. Her son will not be a Princeton football hero; it’s uncertain whether he will learn to drive a car or attend college at all. But he is speaking in short sentences, and his mother has found joy in unanticipated places. In the lives of children like Charlie, she writes, “graduation from high school, having friends, and saying ‘I’m thirsty’ are cause for joyous celebration.”

As we prepare this issue, construction crews finish summer renovation projects, grounds workers freshen lawns and gardens, and professors are returning to campus after spending time abroad. Around the world, young people are packing for their moves to Princeton, no doubt wondering what the trip will bring over the next few months, and over a lifetime.

Expectation abounds.


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