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June 8, 2005:

Immortality, survival, and the cost of graduation

By P.G. Sittenfeld ’07

On the first Monday in May, students, teachers, and administrators gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Forbes College. The event took place in the Forbes lobby, where students ate cocktail shrimp and sipped sparkling cider from plastic champagne glasses. The guest of honor (or the host, depending on how you looked at it) was Steve Forbes ’70 – the man for whom the college is named.

Forbes said he was delighted to attend the celebration, although the venue would not have been his first choice. “If I were better at spinning, we’d be having this at the White House,” he said in reference to his unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid.

Eager students crowded around the man of the hour in search of a handshake. “Thanks for coming to this event,” one freshman said timidly. “And thanks for letting me live in your building.”

Forbes noted that when his father, Malcolm Forbes ’41, named the college for him, it was one of the first times a building on campus had been named for someone who wasn’t dead. “I didn’t mind,” Forbes said. “As my father once told me, ‘What good is immortality if you’re not around to enjoy it?’ ”


Two months before theses were due, a group of 16 seniors decided to create a game of “Princeton Survivor,” modeled after the hit reality TV show. Each participant contributed $25 to the pot so the winner would carry home a cool 400 bucks.

The competition began with two teams of eight, each with four males and four females, squaring off in weekly “immunity challenges.” As in the real Survivor, the losing team was forced to vote off one of its members.

Team challenges included raising the most money in a three-hour Prospect Street bake sale, completing a New York Times crossword puzzle in the fastest time, and finding the cheapest wine per fluid ounce. (Contestant Ann Glotzbach ’05 made the winning discovery, coming across a chardonnay, excellence undocumented, for 54 cents a bottle at a wine factory in her native Arkansas.)

When the field of players was narrowed to 10, the two teams merged and individual immunity challenges began. In one challenge, contestants had to retrieve four random library books located in disparate corners and on different floors of Firestone. Andrew Bosse ’05 collected his four books in a stunning four minutes flat. “It was the greatest athletic feat of my entire life,” Bosse said. “It was also a feat of nerdiness. I only knew the layout of the library because I’d been holed up in my carrel for so long writing my thesis.” 

However, as soon as Bosse lost his immunity, fellow contestants voted him out of the game. “Alliances are changing all the time,” Bosse said. “It’s best if you can just slip under the radar. Don’t make friends, don’t make enemies.”


As the school year ended, seniors expressed little worry about receiving their diploma come graduation day. Their real concern was finding enough commencement tickets so all family members could attend the ceremony.

The University provides each senior with five tickets. Three weeks before graduation, Mara Weinstein ’05 anticipated 12 family members coming to town for commencement, some from as far away as Tinian and Jamaica. “They all want to be there to support me,” Weinstein said. “I can’t say, ‘No, don’t come.’ ”

With many other students in similar need of tickets, a market of barter and sale emerged. On TigerTrade – an online auction site that is Princeton’s version of eBay – 44 of 632 postings were from students seeking more tickets. Mary Bobrowski ’05 sought to stimulate sympathy with the following plea: “I have eight immediate family members … Please allow my sisters to see me graduate.”

Students with fewer family members planning to attend found themselves in positions of power. In an e-mail sent to members of her eating club, Jacqui Perlman ’05 wrote: “My family apparently does not love me as much as your family loves you. Thus, I have a few extra tickets ... I think that the only fair way to deal with the high demand is through physical challenges.” Perlman planned to stage marshmallow eating and hula-hoop contests. “People who need extra tickets are willing to do almost anything,” she said. “Whoever wins the tickets will feel like they really earned them.”

Other students used their spare seats to turn a tidy profit. One senior, who not surprisingly asked to remain unnamed, sold his extra ticket for a whopping $200.

A note to future legacy parents who want to meet terrifying tuitions and actually see their child graduate: Stop after one.

P.G. Sittenfeld ’07 is from Cincinnati, Ohio.