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May 11, 2005:

Thesis Celebrations

At exactly 4:59 and 30 seconds on the afternoon of Monday, April 4th, Jean Su ’05 scurried up the stairs of Robertson Hall and into the Woodrow Wilson School undergraduate office, with three copies of her just-bound thesis in her arms and a giant smile on her face.

A few moments later, the clock struck five, and a hundred-odd Woody Woo seniors waded — or dove — into the fountain Jean had just rushed past, officially inaugurating the campus-wide celebrations of a job well done that begin with the deadline for seniors in three departments — Politics, English and the Wilson School — to turn in their theses.

And so, wearing their “Unnecessarily Exclusive Since 1950” t-shirts, the Woody Woo seniors flailed around in the chilly water, splashing each other with the unbridled glee of five-year-olds, pausing only for a few group pictures for posterity. A few seniors had brought along blow-up rafts, not to mention a handful of freshmen fraternity pledges —who stood poolside in life guard t-shirts with white sun block on their noses.

Over next few weeks, the rest of the senior class would eventually follow suit. Slowly, they emerged from the depths of Firestone, groggy from a few too many all-nighters, anxious to reunite with long-lost friends and, most of all, relieved it’s finally over. “It’s really strange,” deadpanned history major Abby Williams ’05, whose deadline was the 5th. “I’m feeling enthusiastic about life again.”

While the day-to-day life of a post-thesis senior is full of pleasures underclassmen can only dream of this time of year — quiet mornings in bed, leisurely afternoons sunbathing in the quad, raucous evenings in the taprooms of Propsect Avenue — there’s a special, once-in-a-lifetime quality to the long-awaited Due Day. “I couldn’t sleep last night, I was so excited,” Sara Fuentes ’05 said. “It was like Christmas.”

Of course, there were those who almost didn’t make it, like Jean, who said she’d put the final touches on her thesis at 4:33. It was fitting, she explained, that it was her two closest friends who made it possible for her to get it in on time — Caroline James ’05, who manned the printing station, and Anne-Riker Purcell ’05, who stood in line in Pequod. She looked a little dazed as she spoke — pausing frequently to give big, wet hugs to nearly everyone she saw — the enormity of it not quite sunk in yet.

For many of her classmates, though, the process of actually turning in the thesis was far less climactic. “I should have waited, this isn’t dramatic enough,” Troy Holland ’05 said as he turned his thesis into the Politics department office in Corwin Hall. “I definitely could have polished up my conclusion in the next two hours.” Standing next to him, Preetma Singh ’05 agreed. “I feel like I’m missing something,” she said as she flipped through the pages one last time. “I have residual guilt, I feel like I should be working.”

Every senior had to let their baby go sooner or later, of course, and by 1:00 p.m., a steady stream of seniors filed into the Politics office, keeping Cheryl Oestrich and her colleagues busy filling out the final paper work. “It’s better than normal today,” Oestrich said as she directed a senior to the cupcakes, made by her granddaughter, she’d brought to celebrate the occasion. “Lots of people got them in Friday, and they’re coming in steadily today.”

Some, like Rob Anderson ’05, seemed a bit surprised that they had made it. “You always doubt it until you finally turn it in,” Anderson said, before turning to Oestrich and telling her, “I bet you never thought this day would come.” She offered only a knowing smile and an evaluation form to fill it, momentarily dampening Anderson’s spirits. “You’re killing me, Cheryl,” he said. “I’ve got a tee time to make.”

A round of golf was likely one of the more subdued celebrations of the day. For many seniors, finishing their theses meant it was time to throw back a few cold beverages. At lunch at one eating club Monday, one senior counted down the seconds till noon — the acceptable time of day to begin drinking, evidently — before taking a big swig from his flask. Later in the afternoon, several of the seniors in the politics office would appear a bit tipsy, while one English department senior walked across campus surreptitiously sipping out of a brown paper bag. Others didn’t even try to hide it: once good friends Fuentes, Holland and Singh signed the final forms, they pulled a bottle of champagne out of Holland’s backpack, popped the cork, and passed the bottle around — in the middle of the Politics Department office. Oestrich just smiled.

Still, according to Oestrich, this year was pretty tame. “Oh, it can be quite amusing,” she said. “But I haven’t seen anyone totally drunk this year.” Meanwhile, a few feet away, Dorthy Dey — a retired department secretary back to help with the crunch — recalled a few of the more memorable deadline days of her thirty-plus year career, mentioning the unfortunate girl who, weak from staying up all night and missing a few meals, fainted in the doorway.

Brian Lewandowski ’05, who’d stayed up until 6:30 am the previous night, looked like he was in danger of following suit as he gave Oestrich his thesis. “It feels amazing, but I’m exhausted,” he said. “I saw the sun rise over Nassau Hall, though, that was pretty cool.” The sun would be out in force all day long, in fact, nary a cloud in site, as the temperature climbed toward 70 degrees for the first time all Spring. It was, as U2 once sang, a beautiful day.

“When I wake up tomorrow, I’m going to have nothing to do expect enjoy Princeton and enjoy my friends and enjoy the sun,” said Jay Saxon ’05, who stood, towel draped around his neck, glazing off into the bright sunshine. “It’s going to be amazing.”

— David Baumgarten ’06 is from Richmond, Va. and is the Managing Editor for Sports of the Daily Princetonian.