Web Exclusives: Bonus Stories

July 7, 2004:

To Friends at Graduation, PRIVATE

As graduation approaches, I'd like to share a few thoughts with you and others in the Class of 2004. I offer these ideas from the perspective of what I was thinking at my own graduation, and recognizing qualities about the Commencement period time has clarified. By spending time at Harvard, I recognize, too, the uniqueness of a Princeton education and the importance of students in that most essential of Princeton enterprises.

First, congratulations on graduating. You have earned your degree and should celebrate its attainment. Commencement is important both as a sign of accomplishment and as an opening to the next period in your life. When I and others graduated in an appropriately iconoclastic era three decades ago, the traditional symbols of graduation were diminished, as new ones appeared. Passages like Commencement have regained their older meaning today, and while the current age needs iconoclasm, too, this should be a special period to enjoy with family and friends.

Second, be glad about what you have done at Princeton, appreciating your and your peers' accomplishments. Accept that you could not do everything. Have few regrets for what might have been: There is life after Princeton. As time goes on, you may experience these years in differing ways, particularly when you return to Princeton in the future. If you get a chance to spend a period of time on campus again, it may provide an opportunity to develop perspective on your own years here.

Third, keep in touch with Princeton, but don't overstress its significance. This institution has affected you and will continue to do so, and in return you have a right to continue to influence and help improve it. Remember, too, the social concerns that have been raised here: As you enter another real world, take the opportunities to act on your beliefs. As you pursue a career, follow your convictions into action early and frequently, as a habit like precept participation, that you practice regularly rather than as a future goal. Contribute where you can to the University, to other organizations, in the nations' service, and to social concerns that touch your and others' lives. Give particularly of your time and ideas. Finally, figure out what you want and need to do with your life, and persist in pursuing what is important so you can do both good and well. When you have the perspective of a few years, share your thoughts and assistance with others who pass such milestones as these.

It difficult to say much in a few words, but I would rather err toward brevity. Know that you take the admiration and affection of your teachers, family and friends. Again best wishes on your graduation, and best hopes for the future.

Richard Sobel ’71
Princeton Class Day
May 31, 2004