Web Exclusives:

Raising Kate

a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

September 13, 2000:

Princetonians at large
An incoming freshman gets a close look at some fellow Tigers

It was early June — hot, humid. The kindly parents of a Princeton sophomore had invited a group of us to experience the "greater Princeton community" at a party at their house in a peaceful suburb in Missouri. There, past and present Princeton students were introduced and immediately set upon by eager parents, leaving the future freshmen to get acquainted.


Stanton was in Guatemala for a month with the Franciscans, but his parents came to the party anyway. Their mission was, as they put it, to "scope out the other freshmen" and "report their findings" to their son upon his return. It was too bad, they implied, that Stanton was not here with his future classmates, indulging in the selfish, hedonistic activities that we were enjoying at the local swimming pools and movie theaters. No, Stanton was more socially conscious, less self-absorbed; at the very moment that I was sucking the milk-chocolate coating off a strawberry, Stanton was fending off giant tarantulas and learning how to wash his clothes in a river.

"That should come in handy," I said. "In 10 years or so, when the FTC investigates your son for unsavory business practices and he 's forced to flee the country..."

But it was too noisy at the party, and they didn't hear me.


"You're lucky," said a short, portly alumnus who had managed to corner three of us. "Princeton received thousands of applications just like yours. Good grades, high test scores, extracurriculars. In the end, it all came down to luck." He turned to Ellen, a tennis player who had written on her application that she was planning to major in engineering.

"That was very clever of you," he said. "If there's any niche, any guarantee of acceptance, it's to say that you're a woman who's interested in engineering."

Ellen looked a little hurt. She really did want to study engineering.

"Of course, you're probably planning to go for an AB," the alumnus said, as he speared a cheese cube with a toothpick.


I was later accosted by a woman in a blue pantsuit.

"I hope you've met my son," she said as she rushed up to me.

I looked around helplessly.

"The tall, handsome boy, over there." she said. "Eric."

I turned to see Eric, who was busy peeling the top off a carton of frozen custard with his teeth.

"That's quite a skill," I said. "Can he open bottles that way, too? Because he'd be a hot commodity at parties."

But she couldn't hear me over the noise, and only smiled


Jane was from New Zealand, and she had Americans figured out. Having ascertained that the parents enjoyed talking about the accomplishments of their children, and that her fellow classmates enjoyed talking about themselves, she had settled into the role of the good listener. As a result, she was quite popular.

"I'm doing the Outdoor Action program. How about you?" she asked me.

"Not me — I hate the outdoors."

"Urban Action, then?" Stanton's father asked through a mouthful of crackers.

Wishing to project an aura of social consciousness and general altruism, I grunted ambiguously.

"My son Stanton is in Guatemala right now, you know," Stanton's father began.

"I'm sure that's a beautiful country," said Jane, adeptly reclaiming the conversation. "I love the outdoors. Like when it's sheep shearing time in New Zealand – lots of fun."

I was swept up in a mental image of a herd of sheep grazing in front of Nassau Hall. Sheep overrunning the eating clubs. Sheep eating Stanton's father. I was pulled away by a pressure on my elbow.

"I don't think I've met you yet. What are you planning to study?" someone asked me.