Web Exclusives: PawPlus

February 15, 2006:

Accepted to Princeton: Parental pride – and shame

By Susan A. Patton Jaffe ’77

“You must be so proud!”

I’ve heard it dozens of times in the past few days since my son Daniel received his “big envelope” from the Princeton University admission office. He has been admitted by early decision to the Class of 2010.

It was a spring day in 1973 when I received my acceptance letter to Princeton’s Class of 1977. It was the affirmative answer to a prayer I could only whisper. It was the promise of a life beyond the Bronx. There should have been great joy and hearty celebration at home. I had forgotten until this week that my admission to Princeton was joyous only to me. It was upsetting and shameful to my parents.

I would be the first woman in my family to attend college.  The necessity of my continued education eluded my mother and father. My leaving their home before marriage was an utter disgrace to them. Princeton was unknown to my parents.  They saw no honor in my admission to such a prestigious institution, and they were confident that I should be investing myself in other things.  It wouldn’t have mattered where I wanted to go away to school. They were adamant that a young girl’s place is in her parents’ home, until she is in her husband’s home.  European immigrants and concentration camp survivors, my parents couldn’t understand why at 18 years old, I didn’t direct my efforts towards finding a mate.

As a very young child, I understood that my parents were different. The memories of Auschwitz for my mother and Bergen-Belsen for my father would haunt them all their lives, and often render me feeling more than one generation removed from them. The explanation of how I would benefit from a Princeton education fell on their deaf ears and paled in comparison to their fear of the horrors that could befall me if, as an unmarried daughter, I lived other than under their roof. They wanted nothing to do with my college application and refused to sign the required financial documentation. For many years, filing my application to Princeton as an emancipated minor made me feel strong and independent.

Thirty-two years later, I feel sad that my parents couldn’t accept the pleasure and pride of having a daughter at Princeton. Through loans, grants, and working multiple jobs on campus and during summers, I paid my own way through school. The cost of a Princeton education today is more than 10 times what it was in 1973. I have long dreamed that someday I might be the proud parent of a Princetonian. It will be a (very expensive) pleasure to pay my son’s University bill.

All freshmen begin their undergraduate experience hoping that they will fit in, make friends, and succeed academically. I remember that the support and encouragement from family was often the thing that carried my classmates over their early adjustment hurdles. I was fortunate to find a sympathetic roommate (the granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi), a caring Schools Committee alumnus (who has remained a lifelong mentor), and happiness singing and dancing with the Triangle Club.

Perhaps more than many of my classmates, I could well have used the support and encouragement of my family. I knew that as a New York City public school graduate, I was insufficiently prepared for the academic rigors of Princeton. I knew that socially I was far less skilled in cocktail party etiquette than my prep school classmates. What I didn’t know was how to respond to well-intended, enthusiastic exclamations like, “Your parents must be so proud of you!”

Am I proud of my son Daniel and his admission to Princeton’s Class of 2010? I am so proud I could burst!

– Susan A. Patton Jaffe ’77
New York, N.Y.