Web Exclusives: Bonus Stories

July 7, 2004:

Jay Katsir ’04’s Class Day 2004 Student Address

I was told that the purpose of this speech was to be “lighthearted,” but when I was trying to write it, and I looked at the commencement schedule, I realized how difficult this would be. Most of the events have so much natural comic value that they’re almost impossible to match: the salutatorian’s address delivered entirely in Aramaic with English subtitles, the P-rade, where the second-oldest alumnus Charlestons fiercely behind the oldest alumnus, waiting for him to collapse and drop the Cane of Power, the Step Sing, where families are forced to watch the children whose education cost them over a hundred-and-sixty-thousand dollars bargle out a mass, drunken chorus of I’ve Got Friends in Low Places. Even the period leading up to commencement is tough to follow. During the time when other schools have a “Senior Week” with a variety of university-sponsored events like booze cruises, we have a “Dead Week” with a variety of biblical plagues, like hail and locusts. It’s hard to get much lighter.

So, to amplify the light impact that I hope to have on your hearts, at this time when there are many things that could possibly weigh them down, I thought I’d explore some of my more overpowering anxieties from the past four years.

It was unnerving to come to Princeton as an uninformed suburban Jew and enter a room full of bright blond people standing in unison to a stirring anthem and thrusting their fists into the air. It’s been explained to me on many occasions that this gesture during the alma mater is derived from such innocuous and outdated practices as raising caps, or hoisting steins, or flogging servants, but I’m still sometimes a bit unsettled by it. During Freshman and Sophomore years, this anxiety dovetailed with the rejection anxiety that I felt during Princeton’s patented Application and Exclusivity Decathlon. Like most students, during my first two years, I was rejected from freshman seminars, improv companies, dinner, intramural sports, voicemail set-up. During junior year, my anxieties were more subdued; did I choose the right major? does participating in my eating club affiliate me with the communist party? am I the only one who still wears a retainer?

But when I came back to campus at the beginning of this year, I was finally accustomed to the way things work here, and I thought, This is right, I’ve always been ready to be a senior. If I could have been a senior the whole time, I would have been able to take advantage of so much more; if I could have been a senior the whole time, I might have known not to open that old manuscript in the Rare Books Room that gave me cholera; if I could have been a senior the whole time, I never would have gotten that $18 Rialto haircut from a barber who watched an entire episode of Charles in Charge while shaving my head without looking down. But some things have to be learned through experience.

Today, breathing the proto-nostalgic air of commencement, I don’t know if I’m ready to be whatever it is that comes after being a senior. All this structure is about to dissolve. Many of us are prepared for this. Some of us still want to cling to the warm glowing warming glow of Princeton. But even though it may be hard to leave this place, I have faith in the class of two-thousand ought four, many of whose members will, as the old wisdom goes, walk out of here as the servicers of humanity, or the vanguard of our nation’s illustrious stock banks, banking markets, market houses, and stocking marts. I might not join them. [In fact, my future employment is still completely undetermined, Mr. Stewart]. But today, to show my gratitude for having had this place and its people as part of my life, I will do my best to throw off my anxieties and raise my fist during that stirring old chorus, thrusting it up heartily, one last time.

You can reach Jay at akatsir@princeton.edu