Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
long...it’s been real
And, yes, I
learned a lot
This is the final "Raising Kate" column, an occasion
I have been both anticipating and dreading for the last four years.
I'm writing it from Cairo, the locale that was the inspiration for
many articles a year and a half ago, when I studied abroad for a
semester. This time I'm here for seven weeks, taking part in an
intensive Arabic program at the American University in Cairo.
Regular e-mails sent to the local American community warn of the
importance of being vigilant, although the Egyptians I've met have
been remarkably forgiving, given what's going on in another ancient
capital 800 miles to the east. Among the most tolerant are the young
men who hang out on the Nile bridges and whose names are built on
the H-M-D consonant root that is the basis for most monikers in
this part of the world. Mohammed, Ahmed, and Mahmoud — as
some of them are inevitably called — do not discriminate on
the basis of national origin or foreign policy. They like all young
women, Egyptian, American, or otherwise. No, the real dangers in
Egypt go beyond nationality, and come from speeding taxis and from
the irascible donkeys and aggressive geese that claim the Cairo
streets as their own. Not that I would have been much safer back
in New Jersey; on Monday, I got an e-mail from Donald Reichling,
director of public safety, informing the Princeton community that
a black bear had been sighted on the back lawn of Forbes College.
Would that the bear had made its appearance three weeks earlier,
in time for the P-rade, where I held an orange placard reading "Rumsfeld
Resign: Princeton in the Nation's Service and in the Service of
all Nations." The result was that two days before Commencement,
I was confronted by the "how dare you rain on my P-rade"
attitude of entitlement that I have tried for four years to convince
myself represented a stereotype of Princeton rather than the reality.
A ferocious, ursine force might have done a lot to change that.
First there was the blond woman — and five minutes later,
a male classmate wearing Nantucket Red plaid pants — who told
me that my sign was "really inappropriate" for the P-rade.
Then there was my British classmate from freshman year geology who
asked me to put down my sign because it was making people feel bad
or, if I didn't want to do that, to at least move away from him.
Someone else told me that a 50-year reunion only comes once in a
person's lifetime, and that Donald Rumsfeld ’54 should be
able to come back to Reunions and stroll around in his peach beer
Mine was, of course, not the only sign in protest. There were
members from some of the earliest classes in the P-rade who carried
notebook-paper sized signs reading "Down with Bush" and
whose faces dissolved into gleeful wrinkles when they were cheered
by onlookers. Someone else in my class carried a sign reading "At
Least Rummy Isn't Our Real Grandfather" — the Class of
1954 is the grandparent Class of 2004 — and the handshakes
and thumbs up our signs received far outnumbered the boos and nasty
comments. Nor were such signs, regardless of what detractors said,
inappropriate for the P-rade, an event which has a tradition of
protest. Any visitor to the Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library will
notice the vintage P-rade photographs of graduates and alumni carrying
placards for women's rights, civil rights, an end to the Vietnam
Princeton's motto, "Princeton in the nation's service and
in the service of all nations," is something I believe in fervently,
even though I don't usually buy into slogans. It is something I
believe in, even though my university's — now my alma mater's
— motto represents a statement of Princeton's potential that
is, as yet, unfulfilled. I'm not a pacifist. I'm not someone who
thinks that graduating seniors going into investment banking or
consulting are selling their souls. There are many ways to help,
and making money does not preclude one from volunteering one's time
or assets to elicit change. But I do think there are a lot of people
graduating from Princeton who are falling short of the university's
The day after the P-rade, as I sat with my parents and watched
the Baccalaureate simulcast in McCosh 10, a classmate I had met
for the first time the day before told me that even though he didn't
necessarily agree with the message on my sign, he had been wrong
to criticize me for carrying it. And then he shook my hand.
It goes without saying that in four years at Princeton I've seen
people do a lot of impressive things, a fact that owes itself to
Fred Hargadon's talents as dean of admissions and to the incredible
resources that Princeton bestows on its chosen few. But what impressed
me the most between 2000 and 2004 was what my classmate said the
day after the P-rade. It takes a big person to say something like
that. I'd like to think that Princeton has given me the confidence
and grace to admit when I'm wrong; the reality is that I don't know
if I could have done the same thing. I'm proud to have gone
to school with someone who can.
The question that I am most often asked, as a newly minted Princeton
alumna, is if I made the right decision about college, and if, four
years later, I'm glad I decided to go to Princeton.
The answer is yes.
I would like to thank my editor of four years, Lolly O'Brien,
and Jane Martin, PAW's former editor, for hiring me. I would like
to thank Marilyn Marks, PAW's current editor, for giving me a share
in the "On the Campus" beat. I would like to thank Fred
Hargadon for saying YES! I would like to thank my parents for supporting
my college education, both financially and emotionally. And I would
like to thank you for reading.
You can still reach Kate at email@example.com