Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Getting ready for life
And looking at the past
On April 23, senior class president Eli Goldsmith sent out an e-mail
announcing: “As graduation draws closer, the Class of 2004
government acknowledges that there are very few chances left to
be exposed to Princeton’s distinguished faculty. Furthermore,
we concede that as we all enter the real world, there are also certain
functional skills that might have eluded us while living in the
Princeton bubble. Thus, we present to you...the Class of 2004 Minicourse!”
The minicourses, 90-minute lectures conducted by Princeton luminaries,
covered a wide range of topics. In addition to academic talks —
genetic research by President Tilghman, ethical obligations by Peter
Singer, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial by Robert George —there
were more practical courses on beer and wine tasting, the secrets
to apartment hunting in New York City, and tai chi.
For many seniors, the main attraction was Director of Dining Services
Stu Orefice’s limited enrollment minicourse on food preparation.
With all due respect to Mr. Orefice, the two years I spent in Butler
College as an obligatory patron of Wu Dining Hall — and in
one memorable instance, being warned by a dining services employee
that not under any circumstances should I take the chicken filet—were
enough to know that food preparation is an art I should learn elsewhere.
The big draw for me, and apparently for many other seniors, for
this minicourse was limited enrollment and filled up immediately,
was one on Princetoniana led by University Archivist Dan Linke.
On May 6, Linke gave 20 seniors a hands-on look at documents and
memorabilia from the collections of the Seely G. Mudd Manuscript
Library. The minicourse was an opportunity to eavesdrop on history,
the parchment-and-sepia-daguerreotype equivalent of the hidden gargoyles
and forgotten quotations on the campus’s gothic buildings,
the little details that make you feel as if you have discovered
a Princeton all your own. There is magnificence in such things,
the kind of voyeuristic allure that draws students to pore over
private correspondence and old photographs and to imagine what university
life was like for their Princeton classmates of yore.
At the Mudd, Linke ushered the seniors into a room occupied by
a big table. In front of every chair was an intriguing box or leather
tome containing materials from the archives or from public policy
collections. Seniors jockeyed to determine the most promising artifacts
and to take the chairs in front of them, but Linke assured us that
once “senior show-and-tell” had ended, we would be allowed
to rotate seats.
Yewlin Chee ’04 found herself in front of a cardboard box
labeled “tobacco.” Inside was an engraved silver cigarette
case that had belonged to Hobey Baker ’14, a letterman in
three sports and World War I hero who died when his plane’s
engine failed during his first postwar jaunt.
Christina Mester ’04 was the lucky one. She had chosen the
chair in front of the most coveted item: John F. Kennedy’s
file. Contained within was Kennedy’s Princeton application,
a handwritten page on which he had noted, “To be a Princeton
man is indeed an admirable distinction.” (Linke said that
after pulling out for a year’s sick leave and applying to
Harvard, Kennedy resubmitted the same essay, substituting “Harvard”
for ‘Princeton.) On the application, a high school professor
of Kennedy’s had written, “Ability, but immature and
does not work hard.”
There were papers from John Foster Dulles ’08, who served
as President Eisenhower’s secretary of state. Included was
a speech about the spread of communism that Dulles had sent to Eisenhower
for proofreading, as well as Eisenhower’s gracious response
that he had made only one or two minor corrections. Closer examination
revealed that Dulles’s speech was blanketed in penciled addenda
“Do your papers look like that when you get them back from
your professors?” Linke asked.
“Our professors don’t read our papers,” I said.
There was a scrapbook from 1871 that included a pair of cuffs
that a wily student had used as cheat sheets for his junior year
logic exam. The handwriting was so small and cramped that it was
difficult to see how the cuffs had proved any value to him at all,
other than as a souvenir of those heady pre-Honor Code days.
There was a yearbook with a picture of Donald Rumsfeld ’54.
“Wow, he’s actually kind of attractive,” the girl
examining it said.
There were two senior theses: George Pratt Shultz ’42’s
“The Agricultural Program of the Tennessee Valley Authority,”
and Brooke Christa Shields ’87’s “The Initiation:
From Innocence to Experience: The Pre-Adolescent/Adolescent Journey
in the Films of Louis Malle, “Pretty Baby” and “Lacombe
Lucien.” Shield’s thesis, an opus of 106 pages, was
signed on the last page — in green pen — in a big, loopy
movie star style.
The seniors were mesmerized by the artifacts. Kennedy’s
application and transcript got the most attention, but the letters
Woodrow Wilson 1879 had written to his future wife, Ellen Axson,
proved unexpectedly popular. Wilson was a prolific and earnest letter
writer. In one epistle he expressed hope that Ellen would not be
too surprised to find in her post a collection of “twenty
closely-written pages,” an effort that had given poor Woodrow
“throbbing orbs that refuse all use.” “I must
indulge them with absolute rest for about twenty-four hours,”
Wilson wrote plaintively. In perhaps what was the late 19th-century
equivalent of audaciously placing a hand on a girl’s thigh,
he told Ellen that in future correspondence, “I’d like
you to use the name ‘Woodrow.’ ”
You can reach Kate at email@example.com