Web Exclusives: On the Campus

July 18, 2007:

Farewell … for now

By P.G. Sittenfeld ’07

On the first Tuesday in June, more than 1,120 undergraduates gathered in the shadow of Nassau Hall and under dappled Front Campus sunlight to become the 260th class to graduate from Princeton. Perhaps we shared similar feelings with the young men of the University’s first graduating class as we completed our undergraduate experience as the Great Class of 2007: excitement, nervousness, nostalgia, and gratitude for years spent here.

Graduation is an exhilarating moment because our entire life stretches out in front of us. Graduation is a daunting moment for the same reason. In my final On the Campus column, after several years of this valued opportunity, I reflect on what Princeton has meant to me and my peers and what it will mean to us into the future.

Our time here has felt both as long as a lifetime and as short as a rendition of the final stanza of “Old Nassau.” Our lives have been nomadic: moving each year from one dorm to another and scattering each summer for various internships, jobs, and travel.

Certainly, much has happened as we have grown from starry-eyed 18-year-olds to graduating seniors. We arrived fresh-faced and eager to make new friends and embrace college life. We learned the rhythms of a campus that is part East Coast pressure-cooker and part Orange and Black Bubble utopia. We immersed ourselves in wide-ranging studies that fully challenged our intellectual curiosity and, blessedly, developed a few real -world skills, too. Even at best, our academic pursuits did not provide us with all the answers, but, instead, with the wish to continue our exploration of the most meaningful questions.

For four years, we’ve committed ourselves to a capella groups, community-service organizations, dance companies, sports teams, eating clubs, and debating societies. We’ve procrastinated enough to warrant Dean’s Date all-nighters. We’ve stayed up until sunrise for less academic reasons as well. We’ve produced senior theses. And now we’ve marched out through FitzRandolph Gate and into the world beyond.

Even the most blissful Tigers acknowledge that it hasn’t always been smooth or easy. But that’s part of what makes these years valuable: increasing self-reliance as we bounce back from our inevitable mistakes. What’s important is that we made it – and for that, we should be proud. Proud and aware of faculty, family, and friends who have stood by us and with us.

When the time came to say goodbye, it was bittersweet to separate from the people who defined our years here and the University that had become our home. On graduation day, following the ceremony, as students bid fond farewells, one classmate remarked: “I realized that not only do I love Princeton, but that I think Princeton might be a love of my life.”

Of course, there is a vexing world out there in need of the best Princeton has to offer. We’ve been given much; how will each of us now return the favor? A Princeton diploma does not guarantee our success. Our undergraduate education here has empowered us to do well and opened for us many doors. May the same privileges that have come our way also motivate to us to do good.

In his Baccalaureate address to the seniors, much-admired emeritus Professor John Fleming declared ’07 the “Class of Destiny.” He’s given us the title; now we must breathe life into that confidence. Ultimately, each of us will cross the threshold of our dreams and aspirations.

Having a sister in the Class of ’02 and a father in the Class of ’69 has given me an encouraging glimpse of what life might offer five or 38 years ahead. And I’ve also come to realize that our greatest asset is the same one that has enriched our time at Princeton: one another. We have grown together: learning, loving, agreeing, disagreeing, bickering (literally and figuratively), hoping, dancing, drinking, and dreaming. As we disperse across a country and a world riddled with troubling issues and yet poised for progress, we have roles to play. We have much to give to and to gain from each other.

One might think that watching my Old Man accumulate overflowing files in his now-32 years as ’69’s Class Scribe would be a dissuading experience. Apparently not. Perhaps it’s genetic. Whatever. As ’07’s Class Secretary for our first five years out, I look forward to chronicling the lives of our Class. On to new adventures!

P.G. Sittenfeld ’07P.G. Sittenfeld ’07 is an English major from Cincinnati, Ohio. A Marshall scholar, he plans to enroll in a new one-year master’s program in English literature and American studies at the University of Oxford, followed by a one-year master’s program in economic and social history.


Photo by Hyunseok Shim ’08