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October 6, 2004:

Making a list: The best-laid plans for senior year

By Jen Albinson ’05

Several of my friends and I worked as ushers during Commencement 2004. The job proved stressful at times: negotiating with families who had left their tickets in Milwaukee, forming impenetrable human chains to keep mom and her new digital camera from blocking the procession, and deciding whether the rain was strong enough to distribute the thousands of orange ponchos Princeton had purchased for the occasion. But the job certainly had its perks. We got paid. We got to see all our older friends graduate. We got front row seats to hear Jon Stewart’s talk on Class Day. All in all, a pretty sweet deal.

Most importantly, the usher job got us thinking about Commencement 2005. After three fun-filled years of studying away the days and dancing away the nights, celebrating birthdays and dealing with breakups, organic chemistry and Latin American history, the end was in sight. While watching the Class of 2004 adjust its caps and tassels, my roommate Emily and I had a minor panic attack, thinking how fast the last three years had gone. Days earlier in the P-rade we’d heard the Class of 1994 serenade the Class of 2004 with the lines: “Never leave, never leave.” We thought about all the things left to do.

And so the summer after our junior year, we created The List. My roommates and I were far-flung: Andrea was in New York, Courtney in Princeton, both Emily Moxley and Emily Chiswick-Patterson in Boston, and I in Washington, D.C. E-mail provided the only way to compose The List. Emily C. kicked it off. She proposed that sometime during our senior year, we accomplish the following: an afternoon at the Art Museum, a big family tailgate party before a football game, regularly scheduled roommate cocktail hours, a trip to the Jersey Shore, and dinner at the Princetonian Diner on Route One. Emily M. suggested more late-night dance parties – a remedy for stress, based on singing along to Enrique Iglesias and dancing on couches. Emily C. wrote back with another stress-buster: a meditation workshop already planned at the Carl A. Fields Center for the first week of school. Someone suggested a trip to the nearest Six Flags theme park. I threw out Tiger Night, the annual event that showcases all of the performing arts groups for freshmen. Andrea suggested going to Philadelphia for cheesesteaks.

A month after the start of school, having gotten settled into our rooms, our classes, and our status as the oldest kids on campus, we had yet to accomplish anything on our list. We tried to go to Tiger Night, but the freshmen filled Richardson to capacity. I guess it isn’t for seniors after all. We completely forgot about the meditation workshop. One night we all piled into a car and drove out to Route One with the intent of going to the diner, but ended up at a Tex-Mex place instead. Appropriate weather for trips to the beach and Six Flags has come and gone. We can see the Art Museum from our window, but haven’t stopped in once. The family tailgate failed; we couldn’t even get two families to coordinate their visits to Princeton, much less five. The cheesesteaks are still an option, but two of us are vegetarians.

In theory, senior year is all about accomplishing things. Finishing course requirements. Writing a thesis. Applying to graduate school. Finding a job. Growing up. Graduating. As much as senior year is about checking off these items, the failure of The List helped us to realize what seems to be dawning on every member of the Class of 2005: that the joy of the year is really found in the spaces between the items you check off your lists. It is the Saturday night we didn’t go out to the Street until 2:30 in the morning because we were having so much fun talking in our room. It is the arch sing that we just happened to walk by. It is dropping our work and running to the field hockey game in the rain, just to cheer on our friends. It’s our plans to decorate our carrels in Firestone Library, not the time spent working in them.

Every year, I spend the week before school leading a freshman Outdoor Action backpacking orientation trip. This year, I had six great freshmen on my trip, and we took the Green Mountains of Vermont by storm. I tried to impart many important lessons on my frosh: the best secret study spaces on campus, the places where you can score free cups of coffee, the most discrete way to eat your lunch in class if you don’t have time to eat it in the dining hall, how to pull an all-nighter. The lesson I did not impart on them, the lesson that I myself hadn’t learned yet, was to enjoy those moments when seemingly nothing is happening. So with this column over, I am off to see my roommates. They’re lounging on the couches, and I don’t want to miss a second of it.

Jen Albinson ’05 is a history major and can be reached at albinson@princeton.edu.