Web Exclusives:Features
a PAW web exclusive column

February 7, 2001:
Kaleidoscopic Princeton
Student voices about the university in the year 2000

Last year the Council of the Humanities at Princeton sponsored a contest in which students were asked to describe Princeton in short email-like messages. Below are some excerpts from some of the entries.

Sure, at first you think they're cute. The soft, fuzzy fur. Those big eyes. How adorable they look as they nibble at their acorns. But pretty soon you realize they don't look so cute when you wake up and they're sitting in your dorm room nibbling at your Valentine chocolates.

Those annoying Princeton squirrels. You don't read about them in the brochures, but trust me, they are as much a part of the Princeton experience as Houseparties, eating clubs, and crazy Reunions.

Kate Benson '03

I rowed like a dog. We all did. I remember the morning practices when we were "hands on" by 7, gliding the boat out of the stacks and carrying it out to the lake. Some mornings there was still ice on the water, and when we shoved off, the chunks would clunk against the shell. Well, whatever the conditions, we were out there. Carnegie Lake is sheltered by trees and almost windless so that the air sits dead over the water. The surface grows so flat it looks like a steel sheet. The boat cuts through this equilibrium with a balance of its own, eight boys in perfect rhythm, each oar dipping in the green blue liquid at the same moment, propelling it forward, pulse by pulse, and leaving a tranquil froth in tow. If one person were off, the whole boat would go askew and rock precariously close to the water so that you could hear it gurgle from how fast it moved past you. I remember those mornings because they were the most solemn, before you were even really awake, and without the noises of the business day. It was just you and seven other guys moving silently and perfectly together, with the lake just looming all around you.

Theodore Pasquali '01

My advice: Buy yourself plenty of underwear and socks before you get here; everything else you can wear at least a dozen times before true griminess. Also, do not do laundry on a Sunday afternoon unless you want to compete for dryers with all the others who also thought Sunday was a perfect wash day. Do laundry on a Tuesday morning or in the middle of the night, when you will have the whole place to yourself. And, most importantly, don't forget about your laundry, wet or dry, lest it end up in a mildewy pile or a wrinkly mess. If possible, let your dirty clothes accumulate until you go home for a break, or consider sending it home, as they did in the old days.

Aimee Hess '02

Architecture students are undeniably distinct from their peers at this university, if not just a little bit peculiar sometimes. For some reason, no one ever seems to know what exactly we do all day in this glass and concrete building or why it is necessary to spend as much time here as we do, including those of us who keep this place populated at all times of the day and night.

While I can credit my many late nights in this building for the foundation of some of my most valued friendships, what also stands out in my mind is the interaction we are privileged to have with the graduate students in this program. Sometimes their cool demeanor and tortured intellectual appearance make them seem daunting and unapproachable, but I can say with confidence that the architecture grad students are among the most accessible and sympathetic people that I know. Nowhere else on this campus do graduate students work so closely alongside undergraduates and consider them as their peers, which I find exceptional.

Michelle Leong '00

Life here is a fabulous mess, a cacophony of commitments and desires, of things you have to do, things you need to do, things that just happen on their own. The secret is, it's not about picking and choosing. People don't come here to learn how to Prioritize - you've learned that already (or you will, when you finally figure out where you want to go to college). People come here to savor existence in one of the luckiest communities on earth.

Ed Finn '02

Princeton to me is all about doors. The heavy wooden doors of Gothic buildings: beautiful, old, even imposing - but you want to know what's behind them. You want access to the resources, the people, the insight, the help, the connections, the skills that the doors wait to reveal.

Chris Bradley '01

I find that I have a love-hate relationship with the night. Though I would never choose to stay up until 4 A.M., there is something very powerful about being awake in the dead of the night with the noble purpose of getting things done. You begin to feel that you are all alone, that all others are tucked snug in their beds. But one glance out the window, and you'll see many other dorm rooms lit up. Walk down to the computer cluster and there will be students, typing away, surrounded by caffeinated beverages and sugary-snacks, acquired from a recent run to WaWa, a defining part of nighttime at Princeton. The Wa is a convenience store sitting on the comer of campus. It is open 24 hours a day, so Wa runs are possible, and usually most fulfilling, in the middle of the night. Not only do you have all sorts of food to choose from (my dead-of-the-night purchase is always a cappuccino from a machine and a roll of bread from the bread truck's nightly 2 A.M. delivery), but often there will be other students there to commiserate with about work.

The Wa always seems to help, and eventually all the work gets done. Though I try not to make too great a habit of it, I've found missing a little sleep for the sake of work seems more exciting on a college campus than it ever did at home.

Anne Kelsey '01

One of every school year's curiosities for me is a fall visit to the U-Store during the time when students are buying textbooks and notebooks, eating free cookies, and generally getting back in touch with each other. The freshmen are easy to spot: they're the ones standing in front of the shelves, mouthing, "You mean we have to read all of this?"

College students do have to do a lot of reading, and I think this fact comes as a surprise to many who are just starting out. For humanities courses, an entire book per week is not an unusual reading load. One of the most notable changes that college life seems to work on young people is an astronomical increase in their ability to read - not merely to decode words for the sake of getting to the end of them, but to put the words together into a faithful understanding of what the author had to say.

Ian S. Hageman '00

One of the peculiarities of Princeton is that you can never turn a corner or pass through an archway without becoming acquainted with some new gargoyle or inscription. My favorite is a quote carved above the entrance to McCosh 50; it begins, "Here we were taught by men and Gothic towers..." There's a certain nobility to it, and I can affirm that I have learned many things from Princeton's Gothic instructors. These massive stone vaults never cease to amaze me with their concern for my welfare.

Krista C. Dobi '00

Seventeen pairs of cleats crunch across the whitened fields. "We sound like elephants," Scott says, and there is tacit agreement, though none of us has ever heard an elephant jog through the snow. Still, each step on this unsure ground feels elephantine and ponderous. We gamely jog a lap, then sit down, muddying our sweatpants, to stretch.

This is the first practice of Ultimate season, spring 2000. In weather best suited to cross-country skiing or snowboarding, we are about to sprint and leap and toss around small plastic discs. It's 36 degrees and we're playing Frisbee.

Abe Crystal '00

I think it's safe to say that I've done almost everything that I ever hoped to do in college.

I have talked with my roommate about relationships at 3:00 A.M. I have eaten lunch on the steps of Nassau Hall. I have helped paint a class year on the cannon. I have brought friends to dinner with my parents. I have brought friends home. I have built a 7-foot-tall snowman. I have gone periods of three days without attending to any sort of hygiene. I have taken trips to exotic places at the university's expense. I have run out of a physics review session to watch the final episode of Seinfeld.

I have climbed a mountain in Virginia with nine new friends before school even began. I have learned the importance of fabric softener. I have been so happy I danced around in my underwear. I have watched my favorite bands perform and then hung out with them afterwards. I have gone 48 hours without sleep. I have gone 14 hours without waking up. I have crashed my bike. I have aided in the theft of a decorative pumpkin. I have built a bookshelf out of two cinder blocks and a board. I have changed my major. I have thrown 12 surprise parties. I have watched the most incredible basketball game I could ever hope to see. I have worn a tuxedo with sunglasses.

I have learned to ski. I have learned to swing dance. I have purchased a giant, comfortable, cheap couch. I have studied with famous people. I have grown a goatee. I have seen two people dress as a giant hamster. I have frolicked fully clothed in a fountain. I have crowd-surfed. I have had an epiphany. I have taken a friend to the hospital. I have driven a plaid vehicle. I have purchased and named a houseplant. I have gotten a perfect score on an exam. I have failed an exam. I have learned more than 20 dirty songs. I have been in a group of five people in which I was the only one who didn't speak Bulgarian. And at some point, I believe, I have probably also taken some classes.

Adam Ruben '01