Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

July 4, 2001:
Princeton University:
This side of a summer paradise
By Ryan Brandau '03

In my very first email to my parents, I equated Princeton with paradise. One might have considered this comparison premature and rather euphemistic. Indeed, at the time I wondered how my perceptions of Princeton would change during my first few months. But now -- two years later -- I can gladly admit that my shimmering original perception has hardly been tarnished.

When solidifying my summer plans, then, there seemed no better way to lengthen my stay in "paradise" than to remain on campus. What could be better than my favorite place during my favorite season? I envisioned a campus bathed in the glow and warmth of summer with nothing but the plush landscape, squirrels, and summer sun to surround me. It would be a peaceful break from the intensity of the academic year.

In many respects, my expectations have been met (as is almost always the case with my Princeton experiences). I've filled my evenings running along a green and blossoming towpath, reading in my favorite courtyards, and eating outdoors at my favorite Princeton restaurants. The students, faculty, and staff I've encountered seem never to be in a hurry, and all seem to be enjoying the summer just as much as I am.

The summer atmosphere differs from my expectations of it, however. Rather than slow down with the loss of most of the undergraduates, the busy, active pace of campus has been sustained by the new faces and activities on campus. During the first few weeks of summer, film crews, trucks, and costumed extras transformed the current campus atmosphere into a snowy day in the 1960s and an autumn afternoon in the 1970s for the filming of A Beautiful Mind. We are fortunate enough to have busy construction crews making improvements to what seems like every other building on campus. Tour groups the size of Econ 102 lectures march through campus, and high school hopefuls fill the admissions office to maximum capacity. And countless teenaged campers -- from lacrosse players to junior statesmen -- fill the dorms and walkways of campus. With the new atmosphere and the unfamiliar faces, I sometimes wonder if I'm still at the same school. You might think that my summer plans had been spoiled.

But somewhere between rerouting past a bulldozer and dodging a lacrosse ball, I've had the opportunity to do one of the things I love to do most at Princeton -- talk to people. As always, interacting with other Princetonians exposed me to a wealth of varying experiences. I discovered that many students remain on campus to begin work on their theses -- researching, writing, and doing lab work alongside their advisers and professors. Others stay for the work opportunities available with conference services, their department, a campus office, or one of the many other employers on campus. Of course, many students combine these and other resources. I, for one, have enjoyed working in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduates while also furthering my studies in music with my vocal coach and my conducting professor.

Meeting new people has allowed me not only to learn about their experiences but also to share in their interests. Talking to a friend about her thesis peaked a new interest in medieval literature, and chatting with a new friend who works at WRPB radio exposed me to new worlds of music. Learning and sharing with others has encouraged me to learn more about myself and explore new interests.

These experiences -- meeting other students, hearing about what they're doing and learning, getting to know the faculty and staff -- are so rewarding that I hardly notice that the campus atmosphere isn't quite what I anticipated it would be. Thinking about that led me to realize that it always has been and always will be the people, the relationships, and the learning experiences of Princeton that make it like "paradise" for me. I'm glad I have these three additional months at Princeton, and as much as my parents would love to have me home for the summer, the blissful emails my experiences here continue to inspire assure them that I'm having the time of my life.

Ryan Brandau '03 studies music theory and conducting at Princeton. He can be reached at rbrandau@princeton.edu.