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

October 24, 2001:
Tilghman: The big cheese and the big to-do
A gala night, lights, dancing, and what are those hors d'oeuvres called?

By Kate Swearengen '04

On Friday night at the installation dinner for President Tilghman, the first thing that caught my eye was a three-foot sculpture of the Princeton seal. It appeared to be made out of cheese, and the Latin motto was spelled correctly. As the sophomore class president put it, "You know Princeton, and you know that when Princeton plans this kind of thing, they don't mess around."

They sure don't.

What can you say about an event that calls upon the talents of every scaffold builder, lighting technician, and a cappella group within a 30-mile radius? An event, not involving beer or football, that motivates alums to don lurid orange blazers? An event that can draw graduate students from the subterranean depths of Firestone Library? Even my economics preceptor showed up.

Well, the dining halls were closed for the occasion. And not everyone has unlimited credit at Hoagie Haven.

It was 6:45 when I reached Weaver Track, which had been transformed by the addition of peaked white tents. Multicolored lights bathed the surrounding buildings, and hundreds of people milled about, clutching plastic plates and soda cans. From the looks of it, Princeton Gaudy seemed to have won out over Semiformal as the dress code option of choice. The only exceptions were among the female members of Princeton's Class of 2005. I swear that one of them was wearing a prom dress.

By the time that I had made my way to the interior of the stadium, the Katzenjammers were taking the stage. As Princeton's premier a cappella group performed, I grabbed a handful of hors d'oeuvres from a nearby table. BouchÈs, I think they were called. They looked like miniature chef's hats, and tasted like cream cheese. They also merely whetted my appetite, an experience that must have been shared by many of those in attendance. Because, by the time President Tilghman appeared, the big crowd was in Jadwin, stuffing their faces with heavier fare. Memo to those in positions of authority: in 30 years, when it's time for another installation dinner, keep the main courses close to the stage.

But the fact that she was greeted by a small crowd did not deter President Tilghman. Accompanied by the enthusiastic, if unmelodic, strains of the Princeton Marching Band, she thanked those who had made the evening possible. Nearly blinded by the dazzling lights that shone in her face, and looking understandably bewildered by the cheerleading team's sudden materialization on the stage, President Tilghman concluded her acknowledgement speech. As the onlookers applauded our new leader, the cheerleaders seized the microphone and announced that they would be performing the "Tilghman Train". They chanted "Sis sis sis, boom boom rah, gooooo Tilghman!" Then they formed a pyramid.

"What the hell?" I said.

"Is this really happening?" My friend Laura asked.

"Alright," said my friend Mike. "Alright. This is great."

As the cheerleaders exited the stage, it was announced that Mary Chapin Carpenter would appear shortly.

"Who's that?" I asked Laura.

"You don't know who Mary Chapin Carpenter is?" she said incredulously.

"No," I said. "What kind of music does she sing?"

"It's kind of folky," said Laura. "Her stuff sort of reminds me of Fleetwood Mac."

But at this point in the evening, folk music was less appealing than food, and so Laura and I headed over to Jadwin. We stood in line for 20 minutes behind three graduate students, who passed the time discussing a string quartet (overrated), Princeton's undergraduate population (illiterate), and the probable sexual orientation of a mutual acquaintance (gay).

"Laura, what's a caper?" I asked, as I perused one of the dishes. One of the graduate students overheard me.

"Did you hear that?" he said to his friends. "She doesn't know what a caper is."

I wanted to tell him what a big loser he was, but I didn't. Because when you've got four different kinds of ragout to choose from, who wants to fight? And besides, with the swearing-in of a new president, I was in a pretty good mood. This newfound benevolence lasted through the night, and did not dissipate even when a portly alum, swaying enthusiastically to "I Will Survive", stepped on my big toe.

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu