Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

February 7 , 2001:
Intersession amusement
Pretending to be a prospective student on an Orange Key tour makes one senior reawakens one senior to the beauty and greatness of Princeton

By Annie Ruderman '01


It has been a while since I've seen Princeton from the outside. With break and then exams, and now that big "independent project" to consume my life, I've almost forgotten what the place I live in looks like. But I remember from my high school Orange Key Tour that it's beautiful. And historic. I think its about time I checked it out again. As a prospective.

I have never constructed an alibi before. This will be fun.

First thing is a name. I am already feeling the soaring sense of freedom that comes with compulsive lying. Who do I feel like being today, I ask myself. I try some names on for size: Jane? Lolly? Vivian? Janina? I decide on Carol Sue, last name, Knopfler, for no particular reason.

Now where to be from? In reality I hail from a dull-as-tombs Chicago suburb, so that's out, but I think that it might be prudent to stick with Illinois in case anyone calls me on matters of local geography. I decide that I will be a junior at Robert Edward Ruderman High School, "called RER for short," which is named after the doctor, who once founded the then prairie-town where I am allegedly going to be from. (Robert Edward Ruderman is my real-life father and a wonderful local pediatrician, but he did not exactly found the town I grew up in).

This will be an exercise in trying to look like I'm trying to look like I'm a college student. I choose a pair of black pants (I've heard that all the college girls wear those) and a light blue ribbed turtleneck that is sophisticated, but not showy.

Little will they know that I spent the better part of the morning clad in my bright orange sweats, finishing off the last vestiges of a woefully inadequate term paper to kill the last of my "distribution requirements" (that darned EC). Or that I have overwritten my H drive so many times I had to request more space. Little will they know what an H drive is. They will also never suspect that I have financed the better part of Firestone's recent acquisitions through my overdue fines.

Any one of a number of people could foil my plan: a roommate, a preceptor, the administrative assistants in the history department, an old boyfriend, my thesis adviser, the archivists at Mudd Manuscript Library, a hangover from my residential advising group freshman year, President Shapiro (kidding).

Just one casual, "Hi Annie," and Carol Sue would have a lot of explaining ahead of her.

I decide on a pair of precautionary sunglasses and a jacket I have not worn since (surprise) high school. I tuck my student ID safely into a side pocket and set out to see what this place called Princeton is all about.

There are nine people on my tour, including a man who's cell phone rings four times in the first 10 minute alone and a lady who asks if we only accept valedictorians, because that's what she heard Harvard does.

I vow not to play a quick game of who knows more about Tigertown with my tour guide. I will also not ask him/her to tell me if he/she knows anything about "this really cool journalism group called the Press Club" (I was the president) or if we have a good sailing team (I'm a three-year veteran, and, yes, we do).

Instead, I ask the tour guide if she's affiliated with the admissions office. She tells me sweetly that she's not. The rest of the tour offers disparaging looks, but I can tell some of them were wondering same. I'm golden.

I learn that students used to bowl down the brick corridors of Nassau Hall and that one of only four portraits that George Washington posed for hangs in the back of the room where the Continental Congress once met. I cannot help a bit of awe when we step into Holder Courtyard. It would be nice to live here, I think.

My tour group is intense. There is a girl from Brazil, who speaks Portuguese alongside Spanish and English. And another from a private school in New York.

Soon my mouth gets the better of me. I want to know what are the best classes my tour guide has taken and what she is writing her "senior paper" on. I innocently ask if Holder Courtyard is where kids used to run naked or something. When she quizzes us to see if anyone can guess the President besides Wilson or Madison who spent a short time at Princeton, I blurt out, "Kennedy," and explain that I know that from a biography I once read and not from Fred Greenstein's seminar on presidential leadership.

The hour disappears quickly. When we are looking at Washington's portrait one of the ladies asks me how I like Princeton so far. I tell her I think it's great. I can't help grinning. After all, I do.