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

July 2, 2003:
And so it goes...

From Commencement to admissions

Commencement 2003: By all accounts, this year's Commencement was the worst in recent memory, with the notable exception of Jesse Liebman's charming salutatory address, which paid tribute to such Princeton fixtures as Via Prospecta, Fons Woodywoodensis, and Elysium Hoagii — Propect Avenue, the Woodrow Wilson School fountain, and Hoagie Haven. "Tibi, mehercule, Bacche, tibi primo inter deos nos gratulamur," Liebman said, expressing the debt of the graduating class to the god of the vine and praising his libation of choice, optime Milkwaukiensium — Milwaukee's Best.

Classical Latin aside, though, the ceremony was dismal, and the weather more evocative of Caesar's campaigns in northern Gaul than a sunny day in the Forum. The rain started toward the end of the ceremony, and picked up as the Class of 2003, master's recipients, and doctors of philosophy paraded out through Fitz-Randolph Gate.

Their modus exitus was distinctive: several new graduates clutched cell phones to their ears as they made their way out, coordinating with their parents and congratulating classmates who were caught up in other parts of the line. Upon exiting the gate, one young man broke from the line and cut across Nassau Street, to a car his friend had idling, bank robber style, in a side street. The graduate was Tyler Wren, former economics major and now a professional cyclist on the Colavita-Bolla team, and he was dashing off to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for a 91-mile race, one of the most important of the summer season.

Meanwhile, parents jostled like paparazzi on the sidewalk, wielding Burberry umbrellas and expensive cameras.

"Dad, I can't stop for a picture; there are people behind me."

"Smile, Barbara, dammit."

Barbara smiled. The line swerved around her.

Summer Housing Blues: According to the regulations set forth by the housing office, undergraduates are eligible for on-campus summer housing if they will be working for the University or conducting academic research. Summer housing assignments run on the lottery system, with priority given to those students who plan to stay on campus for the full 11 weeks, and even more priority given to those students who play football. This year, the Forbes Annex, Henry Hall, and Scully were designated for summer housing. The Forbes Annex, which is air-conditioned, filled up first; unlucky students whose names appeared at the end of the draw were assigned to Henry. Scully, which is air-conditioned, was set aside for the football team. An informal survey conducted by this writer found that, by and large, Princeton undergraduates are dissatisfied with the summer housing experience. Many do not understand why Scully can't be used to house all undergraduates, rather than just the pigskin set. One respondent went so far as to suggest that the football team's housing assignment be commensurate with its performance, with central air-conditioning the reward for a winning season, and Butler Residential College the penalty for an embarrassing loss to Columbia. What Some Princeton Students Are Doing This Summer: Amanda, a senior in the religion department, is going to South Bend, Indiana, to take classes at Notre Dame. Amanda will get her Latin up to speed for her senior thesis, and will compete in bicycle races on the weekends. She looks forward to the wholesome — and decidedly un-Princeton — experience of living in a single-sex dormitory overseen by nuns.

Elliot, a senior in the civil and environmental engineering department, is working in Baltimore. From the time it rains until three hours after it stops, he makes the rounds of 400 wells, measuring the water level in each one.

Maura, a senior in the comparative literature department, is on campus, where she is working at the Frist welcome desk and acting in two plays. In addition, Maura has taken a job at an old-fashioned book bindery off Route 1, where she excises folios with a razorblade.

This writer, a senior in the Near Eastern studies department, is traveling to Bakurani, a ski resort in the Republic of Georgia, where she hopes to be kidnapped by mountain bandits and ransomed for a sum that is sure to be, her father says, cheaper than four years at Princeton.

Will, a senior in the English department, is working at the Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library, where it's a busy day if eight people stop by. He has catalogued notes from a 1794 Jonathan Edwards talk, as well as lecture notes from the 1800s written in so careful a hand that he said he could see phantom lines on the unruled pages.

Chinedum, a senior in the chemical engineering department, is doing work with polymers that is so top-secret that this writer could not visit him in his lab.

Kate, a senior in the physics department and consummate unicyclist, is also conducting research in a lab. She is working in California, and drove there from Massachusetts, with stops along the way at cultural landmarks such as the Corn Palace in South Dakota.

Nina, a senior in the Woodrow Wilson School, is going to Tunisia to visit her family, who moved there after the political unrest in the Ivory Coast. A world traveler, Nina has never been to Tunisia, but is looking forward to an adventure.

The West College Crowd: Now that summer is here, most of campus is deserted, but over at West College, where group interviews are being conducted, it's a madhouse. Every hour, the glass-paneled door of the conference room swings open, discharging 15 smarmy high school students and taking in 15 more, who will sit around the large table and vie to make a good impression on someone who will have absolutely no say as to whether or not they are admitted to Princeton.

I remember my own group interview three summers ago, conducted by a polished young man who, looking back on it, had probably just graduated from Princeton the year before. During the course of the interview, I learned that in their spare time, my fellow applicants enjoyed composing symphonies and working with political refugees. They learned that in my spare time, I liked riding my bicycle and reading about sharks.

On Wednesday morning, around 10:30 am, I saw a young man who looked a little bit like how I felt after my own interview. He walked out of West College and over to his father, who was sitting on one of the benches, bleary-eyed and pink in the face. I imagined that he had been sitting with the other parents in the lobby of West College, and had left when they started comparing notes on prep schools.

"How did it go?" he asked his son weakly.

"Oh man," the kid said. He sat down next to his father, who ruffled his hair. It was blond, like the father's. I had a terrific urge to walk over to him and to tell him I wished someone had told me after my group interview: Don't worry about it, kid. Next fall, you and that same group of people will be knocking back watery beers in your spare time.


You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu