Off the Campus
Recent grads look at life outside Princeton's gates...
Reunions Survival Guide
By Matthew Boyle '97
Psst. Hey you, c'mere. Yeah you, the senior the goofy grin and the two-sizes-too-big
beer jacket. Whatever happened to that 99 bottles of beer design anyway?
No matter - this is more important. I know some of your classmates have
been to Reunions before, as guests or crew workers, and I'm sure the legacies
have been witness to this singular brand of revelry since they were no taller
than a keg. But you tell me this is your first time, so I'm going to do
you (and your fellow Reunions greenhorns) a favor. I've experienced Reunions
from quite a few angles - from wide-eyed freshman PUDS employee, to graduating
senior, to alum - and I feel it's time to impart some of my accumulated
wisdom over to you, gratis. Follow these simple guidelines, kid, and you'll
not only stay out of trouble, you'll have a much better time in the process.
But first, get me a beer.
1) Never, under any circumstances, take off your beer jacket and button. Not only are they your tickets to the dance, but a senior's beer jacket commands added respect and an almost mystical deference this weekend. I'm convinced that a senior could stroll into any bank on Nassau St. and clear the place out, while bank employees looked on approvingly, as long as he had his beer jacket on. It's like being Superman. The world is your oyster - for this weekend, anyway - so get the most mileage possible out of that jacket.
But an even more important reason to keep it on morning, noon and night is to ward off the infamous "jacket-jackers" - nefarious miscreants who, lacking a legitimate means of entry into the tents, will literally steal the jacket off your back if you're not careful. Think it won't happen to you? Case in point: senior year, during dead week. A few of us were killing time, shooting pool in the Charter tap room, when my buddy Matt took off his jacket (button attached) and threw it casually on a chair. A few moments later, some loitering underclassmen calmly got up and left. Bye, bye, beer jacket. The button was replaced, but our beer jacket supply was tapped, and so Matt suffered the ignominy of being known as "the guy who lost his jacket." Matt vowed to punish the culprit, but we never did find him. No super powers for him that weekend. I also must confess that in my zeal to get into the fifth one year, I joined the ranks of the button snatchers. While sneaking through a room in the junior slums to gain access to the fifth, I came across a senior, passed out on a couch. Well, you won't be needing this anymore, I sneered, as I relieved him of his button, an object more precious than gold to me. So, beware of the cunning jacket-jackers, while milking your elevated status for all it's worth. It's good to be the king.
2) Make sure you stop by the 50th. Our senior year, a bunch of us went down to Forbes to check out the 50th Reunion, mainly because we heard it featured a full bar, but we realized that mixed drinks aren't the only attraction. We befriended a member of the Class of '48 named Homer, who has become an honorary member of our gang. Now when his class marches by during P-rade, we all chant "Homer! Homer!" When you get down there, don't be shy - just walk up to anyone and chat him up. Their tongues loosened by a drink or three, members of the 50th are talented raconteurs, and after a short discussion you'll soon learn why Tom Brokaw labeled theirs "The Greatest Generation." Ask them about their wives (or quiz their wives about them for the real scoop) and their careers, but don't forget to swap stories about Princeton. You can also measure your swing-dancing moves against people who were actually around the first time it was popular. It's such a cool feeling when you meet a member of your grandfather class, safe in the knowledge that there's a special tie that binds you as Princetonians. And while you're at it, make sure you check out who's playing at the 25th and 35th tents - they usually get a good Motown band, a nice alternative to the cheesy '80s tunes blaring out of the fifth and 10th. And speaking of the 10th...
3) Double your pleasure. At first glance, the 10th reunion tent holds all the appeal of an 8AM Friday precept, but savvy Reunions-goers know better. First off, there are no beer lines to speak of, compared to the interminable queues that snake around the fifth. Also, the "one beer per customer" rule is not strictly observed at the 10th. So drink your fill in the 10th, then skedaddle over to the fifth to mingle and laugh as your roommate gets stuck in the beer line behind that annoying guy from OA. And if you do separate from your buddies, don't just say, "I'll meet you back in the fifth." Bad move. That's like saying, "I'll meet you in Hong Kong." Be specific, or you'll find yourself wandering aimlessly about looking for your friends, while the annoying guy from OA tells you all about his consulting job. Good places to meet are the hill and the wristband booth.
4) Learn the locomotive. Ready? Here goes. Hip, hip, rah-rah-rah, tiger-tiger-tiger, sis-sis-sis, boom-boom-Bah! Learn it right the first time, or risk no end of embarrassment come P-rade. And remember to keep plenty of liquid refreshment on hand - it's thirsty work cheering in the sun, and it takes quite a while to get from the Old Guard to the Vanguard. You might get a bit bored during the '80s (will the Class of '84 ever end?), but by the time our class comes strolling by, you'll be chomping at the bit to get down to Poe Field. Moreover, at the rate Princeton traditions are being outlawed these days, it's only a matter of time before the powers that be deem the locomotive cheer unsafe or demeaning to trains or something similarly absurd. Enjoy it while you can.
5) There's more to do than drink. Yes, heresy, I know. How dare I disparage the oil that greases the wheels of Reunions? But it's true - the campus is a bevy of activity all weekend. Got some time to kill Friday afternoon? I remember being highly entertained by the Princeton Shakespeare Company's rehearsal. Think of it as your last chance, as a student anyway, to appreciate Princeton's talented assortment of musicians, actors, dancers, and speakers. They'll thank you, and your liver will thank you as well. And on the subject of thanks...
6) Respect your elders. I know I said earlier that the senior class rules the campus this weekend, but don't let it go to your head. Pay tribute to those who came before you, who helped make Princeton what it is today. Whether you're trading locomotives or swapping stories at the 50th, remember your place. There's a magical transformation that takes place during the P-rade, as you morph from campus veterans into neophyte alumni. It's an indescribable feeling, really, and it's the main reason why all the alums are smiling as they proudly pass you by. They remember the feeling, be they Class of '29 or '92.
And so ends Reunions 101, your final lecture. There's no precept, just a final. Ready for the real thing? Good. Go get me a beer.
The other side of the alumni interview
by Roben Farzad '98
Behold the Ghost of Princeton Past. While a typical
weekday of my Mathey youth saw me wake up at noon, shlepp to the shower,
and finally make my cameo at some rudimentary writing precept in a Hugh
Hefner bathrobe and 99-cent Woolworth flip-flops, my latest reincarnation
has forced me to espouse the bottom-of-the-corporate-ladder dress code,
not unlike the nearly 97.2% of my classmates partaking in some form or another
of consultabankacopea. This outfit normally consists of a sharply-creased
Italian suit, wing-tip lace-up oxfords as easy to break into as Fort Knox,
and -- among other rather pointless accouterments -- a crisp pin-point shirt
so gratuitously starched that you'd require a wad of sandpaper and some
paint thinner to negotiate its stubborn tab collar. . .at 6:30 every morning,
Indeed, I might have worn such an arrangement scarcely thrice as an underclassman, and even then only to look saintly in the face of a dean's warning or Borough Police arraignment. Man, what I wouldn't give to revisit that era of late breakfast, study breaks, and orderly, sober, and unlewd first snowfalls. But, alas, I have to come to grips with the harsh fact that those days are simply over. Still, despite the fact that my thesis is collecting dust in the Mudd Library, and my favorite pair of winter boxers is buried beneath four feet of Holder clay, I long for some ongoing vicarious involvement in that halcyonic playground we know and love as Princeton.
Enter the miracle of applicant interviewing for the Alumni Schools Committee, where we overly nostalgic vets get the opportunity to cross paths with the likes of valedictorian Nobel laureates, star quarterback physicists who interned with Mother Theresa, and other everyday Doogie Howsers looking to make a one-on-one impact on an otherwise faceless admissions process.
The first time one of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed aspirants was assigned to me, I spent many a sleepless night pondering what kind of impression I wanted to exude at the interview. After all, the first Princeton "authority figure" I ever met (when awarded the local Princeton Club Award as an anxious high school junior) emanated the warmth and approachability of a dyspeptic polar bear; she kept cracking her fingers and rolling her eyes in overt boredom as I explained my lifelong dream of majoring at the Woodrow Wilson School and utilizing my good education to take over a small Caribbean island through a bloodless coup in the name of unfettered access to macadamia nuts. Or it probably went something like that.
Anyway, back to the big first interview. Did I want to wear some tweed jacket and ivory-framed spectacles and -- in greater-than-thou J. Peterman fashion -- wax poetic about breezy morning strolls through McCosh Courtyard, haiku recital lunches at the Murray-Dodge Cafe, and nightly venison pate theater at Charter Club?
Would Princeton best be represented if I demanded this prospective don my beer jacket and recite "In Praise of Ol' Nassau" in Latin while negotiating some Rubik's cube?
What if I just stared at my thumbs and mumbled, "all work and no play makes Farzad a boring guy" while John Q. Hopeful went on aimlessly about the personal gratification to be had in uniting the synergies of his local Humane Society and his church's soup kitchen?
Scroll down to the big day. Stuck in the throes of some utterly pointless Power point presentation, I was summoned to our reception lounge at 4:40 with word of the candidate's arrival (I'll use the standard he/him/his to protect the innocent...and the guilty).
* Twenty minutes early. Notepad and two pens in hand. Freezing, yet convincingly firm, handshake. Read: candidate is at least very serious about attending Princeton.
* "Sir" / "Mr. Farzad": Until then, no one but that gnawing AT&T woman who cuts into my nightly Final Jeopardy concentration had ever referred to me as such. I'm honored, but I suddenly feel old.
Anxiety obviously ruled the moment. Probably believing that my finger was privy to some admissions veto speed-button that linked directly to Fred Hargadon's pager, this poor dude measured his every step and word with the hesitation of some eight-year-old spelling bee star. All of which vividly reminded me of just how terrified I was in that same position almost five years before.
And yet once we sat down and I confessed that the supposed power tie dangling from my neck was actually a rare $3 impostor I found at a Key West snack bar, the ice was irrevocably broken.
So there we were, 40 stories above civilization, my office emptying and the weary sun sinking behind the hazy West Miami skyline: a rare meeting of the minds laughingly deliberating pressing issues ranging from high school senioritis to Bicker vs. Sign-ins to the Nude Olympics to Lyle Menendez's failed foray into the Princeton eatery business. So much for, "So, if you were to have one weakness..."
As a good hour and a half passed by, it became ironically clear that this interview was just as revealing and helpful for me as it was for our now-relaxed prospective; I spent nearly two hours talking to a shadow of myself and I was in no particular rush to climb back up into reality. What a blast. Suddenly oblivious to how my life had evolved into an amalgam of uncomfortable clothes, corporate cabin fever, and myriad other real-world hardships, I was overcome with the warm realization that my fortunate encounter with Princeton had traveled full circle.
As the Ghosts of Princeton Past and Future had made their peace and my normally petrified collar finally surrendered to the contours of my neck, I knew I'd be volunteering to do many more of these interviews.
Roben Farzad (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a self-described "corporate tool" and freelance writer in Miami, Florida.
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