From the Editor - March 22, 2000
In 1896, professor of jurisprudence Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech he called "Princeton in the Nation's Service," in which-I recently learned by thumbing through back issues of paw-he summed up the glorious history of the College of New Jersey during the Revolution and made an impassioned plea that the newly named Princeton University protect the intellectual gifts of the past through "the intimate study of the ancient classics." No mention was made of helping the poor or working to make the nation a better place; indeed, quite the opposite: "the perfect place of learning," Wilson said, "[is] a place removed, -calm Science seated there, . . . not knowing that the world passes, not caring, . . . and Literature, walking within her open doors, in quiet chambers."
Despite the actual text of Wilson's speech, its title has been stretched, enlarged, and used to justify and celebrate all sorts of university-related people and events. Each year the Alumni Council presents the Woodrow Wilson Award to that person who best exemplifies Princeton in the nation's service-not, generally speaking, a classics professor, but politicians, journalists, even financiers. Would-be contributors to this magazine have been known to pitch an idea as "a perfect example of Princeton in the nation's service." And during the university's 250th birthday celebration, President Shapiro announced with great fanfare that henceforth Princeton's unofficial motto should be expanded to include "and in the service of all nations."
But trite as the slogan may have become, and regardless of what Wilson really intended, there truly is something noble about Princeton people who make a humanitarian contribution to the world around them. In this issue, as we report the achievements of the Wilson Award winner and of other Princeton students and alumni, we also take a look at alumni who achieve in a quieter way. They're on the front lines of relief efforts, making a difference in the lives of people battered by war, poverty, and natural disasters. They are people like Amanda High '88, who says that relief workers are only facilitators, that the real heroes are the people struggling to return to normalcy; like Joseph Cumming '82, who is raising a family and running a far-reaching charity amidst the poverty of Mauritania; and like Josephine Tsai '88, who for five months ran a medical clinic in the heart of civil-war-torn Burundi.
They may not be what Wilson had in mind when he delivered the oration that would prove one of his enduring legacies to Princeton. But perhaps they should have been.
GO TO the Table of Contents of the current issue
PAW's home page