October 11, 2006: On the Campus
Moving in, and moving up
By Elyse Graham ’07
On the Saturday before Labor Day, the housing department threw open the doors of Baker Rink, where students check in and pick up keys every fall. At 8 a.m., as the doors opened to a gray curtain of rain, 30 freshmen and parents were already lined up outside.
They were actors in a vast annual procession that throws the University into motion after summer’s slumber: move-in week, when thousands of students roar onto campus, luggage in arm and befuddled families in tow.
Freshmen checked in at tables spread with maps and pamphlets. Often a parent hung back, letting the student ask questions of the staffer manning the table. It was a transaction repeated 600 times on Saturday, 200 times on Sunday, and another 400 times over the next week.
Grand Caravans and Accords nosed along wandering paths and through gateways marked only with shields and gargoyles. Parking passes lasted only one hour. Families lugged plastic bins across lawns, rotated sofas through doorframes, and wrestled hockey bags up tight, spiraling flights.
To many parents it was a long-dreaded moment. Anthony Thean and his wife, Chin Suit Fang, pulled a cart of dorm accessories for their daughter, Nikki Thean ’10. “She’ll be 10,000 miles away,” said Anthony, who lives in Malaysia. He’ll see her next on Dec. 16. “She won’t be a child anymore. She’ll be a lot more confident.”
International freshmen often came alone, phoning parents soon after arrival. Many were stiff from trying to sleep on planes. Most wore T-shirts and jeans, though a student from Ghana came wearing a suit. Volunteers drove them to a local mall to bulk up with bed linens and furnishings. At the University Store, more than 21,000 items flew off the shelves during the week.
Hallways and courtyards hummed with evening chatter, with two sentences repeating in waves of rising pitch: “Hi, nice to meet you!” “Where’s your room?”
From the crowns of elms, summer insects sang. New packs of freshmen trod campus paths, punching each other’s names into their cell phones, bobbing shoals of blue light.
With the entry of every freshman class, an upper class rises to senior status. At the opening week’s “welcome back” activities — the barbecues, Opening Exercises, the arts productions — seniors shared their new perspectives as old campus hands. Here, gathered from conversations among seniors at various events, are glimpses of their journey from the bottom to the top:
“It was everything I would have expected, but nothing I could have imagined.”
“At any hour of the day, I figure there are as many students awake as at any other hour of the day.”
“I remember Holder courtyard at night, with all the lit spires and archways, and feeling overwhelmed with the scenery and all the history that implied. In time, you get used to it.”
“I remember Springdale Golf Course at night, dark with pearly white dunes. I used to play tag with friends there.”
“I remember the freshman formal — everyone you hadn’t seen since Outdoor Action, all together in one room, dressed up.”
“One night a friend and I were done with our work, and we didn’t want to sit around. We both took our bikes and biked as far as we could on the towpath, in total darkness. It was totally quiet. It was a surreal experience.”
“I wanted to express myself, but I can’t sing and I’m not very funny. I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can dance.’ I auditioned and got in. I was a little shaky at first, but the seniors and juniors were really patient. That was something that stuck with me.”
“I read this really cool book about erotica in the Renaissance.”
“I remember going around the Gettysburg battlefield with James McPherson before he retired. McPherson said he could be blind-folded and know his location on the battlefield within 10 paces. So we blindfolded him, and it happened.”
“Last night I was wondering if I would go back and do it again if I could. I decided not. Not because it wasn’t a fun experience, but because I made so many blind choices that ended up doing so well and having such a profound effect on my Princeton experience, that I don’t know if it would turn out so well again.”
Elyse Graham ’07 is an undergraduate fellow at Mathey College.
MORE ON THE CAMPUS ONLINE: “A point of guidance” by Christian R. Burset ’07, click here.