On the Campus - May 20, 1998

Past editions of On the Campus, Online

A survival guide to entertaining relatives on campus

Are you ready for the invasion? At the end of May, the campus will be overrun...with family. Not just the siblings who have visited us occasionally, but the whole gang -- grandparents and all -- will be here for graduation. I got a preview of the situation when my grandfather visited last week, and I found myself woefully out of practice in relating to older people. I compiled the following mental notes during his visit, which may make your experience a little smoother.

Illustration by Chris Brooks '97

1. Plan out a schedule before they arrive. My grandfather kept asking, "Well, what do we do next?" And I kept answering, "I don't know, Grandpa, what do you want to do?" It was like a bad Abbott and Costello routine.

2. Don't try to show them everything. Generally speaking, unless they attended Princeton themselves, older relatives come to see you, not the university -- unlike a younger sibling, whose trip to visit you is mostly an excuse to check out college life. Therefore, a short tour is in order, but there's no urgent need to show them (as I did) the new physics building or the Stadium Formerly Known as Palmer.

For my grandpa, the greatest hits on campus were the FitzRandolph Gate, Blair Arch, the Chapel, Prospect Garden, and the Woody Woo building. If you insist on showing them everything, give them a driving tour, not a walking tour. Which brings me to the next point:

3. Keep the walking to a minimum. Drive, if one of you has a car, or ride the shuttle. Group the sites you're going to visit by area so that they require only a short stroll from the car or shuttle stop.

4. Try to take the weather into account beforehand. If it might rain, be sure to have an umbrella on hand for the grandparent. If you're going to be outside in the cold, bring a blanket and an extra coat. If you're going to be in the sun, bring sunscreen. You'll want to anticipate complaints and be prepared to rectify the situation.

5. In a similar vein, take frequent pit stops and assure your relative that each one is for your own benefit, not his (or hers). I overlooked this and got an explanation of prostate enlargement and bladder dysfunction in old age every time my grandpa asked to take a bathroom break.

Save yourself and your guest this embarrassment: Stop before the relative has to ask. On the other hand, if you stop too often, your grandparent will worry that there's something wrong with you. Once every 40 minutes or so seems to be about right.

6. Take your grandparent to a class or a public lecture. I took Grandpa to a lecture on immunology, and once he got over the initial confusion ("American or Indian Indians?" "No, Grandpa, immunology, not Indianology."), he genuinely enjoyed it.

If you want to go to a public lecture, choose one that deals with current social/political issues, not one on some arcane academic topic. For a class, almost anything will do. Your relatives expect your classes to be hopelessly esoteric, so it's sort of gratifying to find that they are.

7. LISTEN. This is probably the most important point of all. If your relatives are anything like my grandpa, they will want to hold forth about their own college years, about your parents as kids, about the shortcomings of American society, about the War, and so on. As host, your best service to them will be listening to what they have to say. A vital addendum to this rule is:

7a. Bite your tongue. You will probably hear your grandparents say things that you would never countenance from a peer. But you won't change your grandparents' attitude in a visit of a few days, and attacking their views may prove worse than an exercise in futility. You don't have to agree with them, but there's no reason to pick a fight.

Listening well was about the only thing I did right during Grandpa's visit. I walked him all over creation. I showed him things in which he had little interest. I let him freeze watching 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore in Lockhart Arch.

But he redeemed me despite my ineptitude, showing me the effect of an attentive host on a doting grandparent. Near the end of this visit, he turned to me with a wide smile and said, "Sweetheart, I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life." Now that's not something you'll hear from a sibling.

Dedicated, generous, arrogant, articulate
Which of these adjectives describes you? Or how about all of the above?

by Wes Tooke '98

It's springtime again, when a young columnist's thoughts turn to overwritten phrases and clichéd farewells. As my goodbye, I've decided to list the things I've learned at Princeton outside the classroom. And please, no jokes about the length of my list.

1. The university will finish building some really cool, new facility the year after your class graduates.

2. The worse the paper you think you've written, the better the grade you shall receive. And vice versa.

3. Any column written for a campus publication that is critical of athletics, drinking, or the club system will result in a drunken, obscene phone call from a fellow student within 48 hours of publication.

Illustration by Titus Neijens

4. No matter how long the line or inflated the prices, always buy flowers for Valentine's Day. Cards, candy, and jewelry are only accessories. Always buy flowers. Always.

5. Greasy pizza boxes should not be left unattended in the refrigerator for five months. If you break this rule, the resulting form of life should be treated with great respect and allowed to watch daytime TV.

6. All you need to know about the Woodrow Wilson School is that it alone among Princeton's departments locks the doors to its computer cluster and gives only its students the key.

7. Princeton's commitment to undergraduate education is unparalleled among major universities. The number of senior faculty members who teach classes and advise students is astonishing in this "publish or perish" world.

8. Good roommates are often the difference between an acceptably bad day and a complete disaster. If my future wife treats me with the same level of care and compassion that my roommates have shown over the past few years, I will be a happily married man. I do hope, however, that she smells a little bit better and drinks a little bit less.

9. Four years of arch sings is enough to cure almost anybody of anything.

10. Princeton alumni are amazingly willing to spend time talking to undergraduates who want advice.

11. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that self-segregation by minority groups is killing the university's attempts at diversity. Princeton needs to make a huge effort to help minority students, especially African-American and Hispanic students, feel more comfortable on campus.

12. Princeton administrators may exist, but I still want conclusive proof. President Shapiro, can you hear me?

13. Despite campus rumors to the contrary, school spirit is not uncool. During my four years here, Princeton sports has had a wonderful run. I only wish more people in my class had been fully aware of it, and I hope the three classes just behind mine remember how much fun it was to pack Jadwin Gym with screaming fans for basketball games.

14. Furthermore, we may as well admit that Penn is our athletic rival. Harvard, Yale, Princeton has a nice ring, but in rivalries three's a crowd, and we've been the neglected third wheel. Besides, Penn is more competitive with us in the major spectator sports. Princeton-Penn basketball games have consistently been the most exciting athletic events in the Ivy League during my time here.

15. Gothic buildings are beautiful in the snow. Naked Princetonians are not.

16. People may date at Princeton, but it's usually by accident. Of course, conditions aren't exactly favorable. Our singles bar is the reserve room in Firestone, our dating hotspot is a coffee shop, and the social event of the year is houseparties -- a three-day über-date that not even June and Ward Cleaver could survive.

17. If I had to go through the club selection process again, I would join Hoagie Haven.

18. After you finish your thesis, the New Jersey air is a little cleaner, the sludge in Lake Carnegie runs a little clearer, and every beer you drink doesn't taste like guilt. Well, at least until you remember that you don't have a job.

My thanks to everyone who has read this column over the past nine months. I am especially grateful to those of you who chose to write me, many via e-mail. You have taught me that Princeton alumni are among the most dedicated, involved, generous, arrogant, diverse, complex, articulate, and intelligent people in the world. I look forward to joining you.

Wes Tooke still holds out hope of graduating this June. We wish him luck on the road.