On the Campus - September 8, 1999
Summer in Princeton
Even in a season of brownouts, some things are evergreen
by Molly Robinson '96
Anyone who has spent a summer in Princeton will tell you that the place changes radically following that first Tuesday in June when the seniors vacate their rooms. The flaming pink azaleas on Prospect Walk discard their colors, reunion fences come down, and construction sites go up. It becomes possible to adopt your own table at Firestone Library. The undergraduates who remain, camped out in the Spelman apartments, take on a newfound sobriety. They work diligently on internships and theses, slightly sedated by the heat and the hibernation of the Street. Graduate students, temporarily liberated from their advisers and teaching responsibilities, either make progress on their dissertations or become expert badminton players. Faculty and staff finally begin to confront the looming pile of work-that-can-wait that has accumulated on their desks over the course of the year.
This summer has, in many ways, resembled summers past. The humid heat has made blissful oases of air-conditioned places such as Firestone and Triumph Brewery, and miserable saunas of upper-floor offices and rooms. The man who likes to stand at the corner of Witherspoon and Hulfish with a boombox to his ear has faithfully kept up his post. Many of Princeton's fledgling and seasoned scholars have evacuated their offices to pursue research in foreign locales, while others have hunkered down for a summer of unfettered contemplation. As always, the campus has been overrun and abandoned several times by energetic high school sports-camp participants, who remind those of us accustomed to college students that people can be even younger than 18. Along the streets, azaleas have given way to fluorescent blue hydrangeas, which have in turn ceded the spotlight to black-eyed Susans.
The summer of 1999 has also had its particularities. The surprise marriage proposal at the end of commencement's salutatorian address got summer off to an innovative start. Soon thereafter, Washington Road was torn up, to make way for safer pedestrian crossings. Instead of pedestrians, deer were crossing the roads in record numbers, infesting gardens and showing up at barbecues. Campus buildings were closed for a couple of brownouts (an unpleasant sounding event if ever there was one), because of excessive heat. The new Patton Hall dorm started to take shape after a year of renovations, Star Wars hype appeared incongruously alongside Austin Powers, and many of us stayed in on a Sunday afternoon to watch a major sporting event involving women. All this excitement was overshadowed by the untimely end of JFK Jr., perhaps the last Kennedy anyone believed in.
There is something quintessential about Princeton summers. Even in a year of drought, summer finds Princeton at its most green and luxuriant. In the summer, town and gown settle in comfortably together, like an old married couple. With its students gone, the university is stripped down to its essence. It renews itself in this yearly reminder that it is, above all, a place of learning. To remain in Princeton for the summer is to commit to knowing it in all its phases, not only its sparkling prestige, but its humdrum staidness and tranquil beauty.
Very soon now, this last summer of the millennium will come to an end. Black-eyed Susans will give way to chrysanthemums, the last hurrah of the floral summer. Gone the buzzing of June bugs, solitary walks up Prospect Street, and days undisturbed by meetings and classes. Soon, campus will be smattered with thundering late-night rock music and paper signs of every sort, and schedules will brim over with open houses and receptions. Farewell, easy dinner reservations and unencumbered computer clusters. Soon, there will be archsings, bands marching through fountains, squealing flirtation on Alexander beach, and the as-yet-to-be-discovered mutations of the banned Nude Olympics.
Only one response to all these changes is possible for someone who loves Princeton: bring them on. It's about time we had some fun around here.
Molly Robinson '96, a graduate student in romance languages and literatures and an assistant master of Butler College, expects to receive her Ph.D. in 2000.
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