July 6, 2005: On the Campus
For seniors, a last night together
By Katherine Reilly ’05
My friends and I spent our last night in Princeton sitting on the dusty floor of my Laughlin single. Our academic robes had been packed away, our beer jackets put in for a much-needed washing. We talked about forgotten freshman roommates, road trips, and the impossibility of finding an affordable apartment in New York. We talked about failed romances, Hoagie Haven sandwiches, and senior thesis mishaps. Though our degrees had been awarded that afternoon, for one last evening we felt like seniors. We would leave the following day as alumni, off to jobs and fellowships and uncertain futures. We were determined to spend our last night in Princeton together.
We had spent the past six days, from the start of Reunions to the close of Commencement, absorbed in a celebration of the University we had come to call home and the friends and professors who had become like family. The ceremonies were elaborate and sometimes exhausting. More than once, friends observed that perhaps they were meant to tire us out, so that we would be more willing to leave college when the time came. What the P-rade, tent parties, and graduation ceremonies did accomplish was to remind the great Class of 2005 how much we had gained at Princeton, how much we took with us when we left, and how much we had to give the world outside FitzRandolph Gate.
We began the weekend comforted by the knowledge that so many had walked through Princeton’s gates before we did. As we watched the P-rade pass, class by class, we offered cheers to those who had once stood in our places. We watched versions of ourselves pass by: an old man with a cane, a retiree, a mother with her own graduating son, a father with a baby carriage, a newly minted professional. We watched until the faces became familiar. As our own class banner came into view, we knew that we were about to join a community whose connections would last a lifetime.
The rain came just as we fell into line on Elm Drive, ready to sprint onto Poe Field. Though we were soaking wet, we ran anyway, losing shoes in the mud and slipping past the reviewing stand. As classmates, we had taken care of each other for four years. We had learned to bring tea to friends who were sick, to wake our roommates before early-morning lectures, and to provide a hug when one was most needed. In the mud of Poe Field, we watched out for one another once more: pulling up those who had fallen, grabbing the hands of friends who were lagging behind. On the day before our graduation, the Class of 2005 celebrated all we had done for one another.
As the Reunions tents came down and graduation ceremonies began, we seniors dwelled on what we had learned and achieved in our four years at Princeton. Sitting before President Tilghman on Commencement Day, clad in caps and gowns, my friends and I felt lucky. For four years, we had been allowed to ask questions for their own sake. We had been allowed to search for answers, no matter how unlikely we were to find them. Even as we wondered where we would ever find such an intellectual environment again, we knew that we had been given the tools to take our questions with us.
We walked through FitzRandolph Gate for the first time in a class procession more than 1,000 people long. As unsure as we were of our futures, it was difficult not to feel a sense of possibility. We had been given so much at Princeton, granted the privileges of education, discussion, travel, and friendship denied to so many. We left with so much that we could use to serve our families, communities, and countries. Though graduating seemed daunting enough, we knew that in the coming years, we would have to earn our educations.
In the days that followed our last night in Princeton, my friends and I e-mailed often, called, met halfway between our homes. We spoke of fears about what was to come, voiced frustrations about returning to our hometowns, and shared the Princeton stories we never tired of hearing. We sought each other out to remind ourselves that though we had left college, we would never leave Princeton behind.
Katherine Reilly ’05 majored in the Woodrow Wilson School.
On the Campus Online: Click here to read “In procrastination’s service,” by Jennifer Albinson ’05.