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February 11, 2004: On the Campus

Illustration: RON BARRETT

Countdown to deadlines

By Tom Hale ’04

On New Year’s Eve, my high school friends discovered some schoolwork in the bag I had brought on our trip. Having finished their semesters long before, they made disparaging comments regarding Old Nassau’s calendar and proceeded to celebrate the New Year without a care in the world. I, on the other hand, had dozens of pages worth of cares to think about and translate into something resembling carefully written English by Dean’s Date, Tuesday, January 13.

As things go, I ended up not thinking much about those cares over winter break, and it was only on the train ride back to Princeton that the implications of my unopened books became clear. Stepping off the Dinky in early January, I, like many others, arrived at Princeton accompanied by a rising sense of panic.

However, college students believe in the motivational power of stress, and many of us wait for the last possible second to begin work on our piles of papers, in this case those due by 5 p.m. the 13th.

To nurture stress’s motivational power, students have developed an array of procrastination tactics; the most common is to talk endlessly about how much work there is. “How many pages do you have?” replaces “How are you?” as the day’s customary greeting. This is not an actual query as to the length of your friend’s assignments; rather, the purpose is to show solidarity: “My, what a lot of work we all have to do.”

As the due date approaches, however, more and more work is actually done. Twenty-four hours before the deadline, students begin the final push, a frenzy of activity that makes for one of the most bizarre days of the semester.

Dean’s Date Eve begins after dinner on Monday. At 7 p.m. there is not a single seat available on the third floor of the Frist Campus Center. The study lounge is silent except for the clacking of keypads and the dull hum of iPods.

Below, Café Viv is also packed, but more boisterous. At one table freshmen discuss the wisdom of relating Hamlet to reality television, while at another seniors, their enthusiasm for such gimmicks spent, drearily type on. The stereo system provides an eclectic soundtrack, playing Hootie and the Blowfish, Ella Fitzgerald, and something best described as New Age, Mexican pseudo-opera.

Ten minutes before 2 a.m., a small crowd gathers outside Café Viv for the free food the Campus Center has promised. By 2:07 a.m., cups and napkins have tantalizingly appeared, but nothing edible. At 2:10 a.m. a basket of bagels materializes, followed by trays of pastries, pizza, and industrial-size coffee tanks. By the time the trays reach the table, the crowd already has helped itself to most of their contents, and students who have patiently stood in line jostle to the front to scoop up the rest. One ill-mannered individual grabs a box of pizza, claiming he has “friends” with whom to share. Karmic retribution is quick, however; he opens the box to discover nothing but cold, soggy garlic rolls.

Around 3 a.m. the ranks of writers thin, though when I return to Frist the next morning — woken by a diabolically timed fire alarm — it seems a number of people have never left. One girl, her face pressed against her keypad, has at least not lost any sleep over the matter.

By afternoon, increasing numbers of people have finished, and a crowd forms around the “Canyon of Heroes” — the sidewalk leading to McCosh down which deadline-pushers run to make the 5 p.m. cutoff. Around 4:30 the Univer-sity band begins playing, and pizza, hoagies, and cocoa are delivered, courtesy of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the junior class.

By 4:45, students delivering papers to McCosh are walking briskly. Around 4:50 a few joggers appear, receiving enthusiastic support from the crowd. At 4:56 the sprinters arrive, hurtling down the “canyon” to the joy of the spectators, some of whom have brought staplers for their less-organized classmates.

At 5 p.m. the crowd disperses, some into the Chapel, which begins to reverberate when musicians pound 150 drums, helping release the tension of tired, but happy, Princetonians.

As students drift off to dinner and Prospect Street entertainments, a festive mood hangs in the air. Perhaps this is why Princeton organizes its schedule so strangely, to preserve the quirky character of this most bizarre day. Though we worry and work through the end of December and into January, it all seems worth it when you run through the McCosh Courtyard, hand in your paper, and, finally, are done.

Tom Hale ’04, from Rhode Island, is a Woodrow Wilson School major.

On the Campus Online: Go to to read “Oxonians into Princeton mix,” by Jennifer Albinson ’05.



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