#TellUsTigers 2020: An Instagram community of Princetonians without borders

Aug. 25, 2020 noon

As the Class of 2020 President, I envisioned a much different end to our time at Princeton ... but I’m looking forward to the future — this is just the beginning for the Great Class of 2020.”

“[B]e kind to others, smiles are free and kindness costs nothing.”

“Music and drumming are so important to me, and when I play, I find that I am able to express what I cannot through words — it is both a powerful and empowering part of my life.”

“I found myself more lost and confused than ever.”

“Each step of the research process offers innumerable ways to fail, and I probably have experienced them all.”

Princeton’s #TellUsTigers Instagram series, now in its fifth year, captures first-person stories that open up the diverse inner worlds of Princetonians. With intention, they reveal the unexpected: a friendship strengthened by difference, a vision of service borne of a cultural taboo, the silver linings of life in quarantine, or the quiet solace of throwing a pot on a ceramics wheel to counter self-doubt and depression.

#TellUsTigers is also a community without borders. Stories regularly spotlight alumni around the world and, in the pandemic, from students, faculty and staff on or near campus and across the globe. The audience is global as well: the series reaches Princeton’s 340,000+ followers on Instagram and hundreds of thousands more on Twitter and Facebook. And the thoughtful comments they share — each a tiny epilogue of encouragement, a soupçon of support or a coda of camaraderie — become part of the stories themselves.

Below, we invite you into that community — with recent posts from Princeton undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni. Click on each photo to view comments. Follow us on Instagram. The series is also shared on Twitter and Facebook. Members of the University community may submit suggestions for future #TellUsTigers posts via email at pusocialmedia@princeton.edu

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#TellUsTigers: “As the Class of 2020 President, I envisioned a much different end to our time at Princeton. I imagined final moments and heartfelt goodbyes with friends before we entered the next stage of our lives; instead, we had a very rushed and abrupt end to our time here. For me, Princeton didn’t go as planned, but it worked out in the end. For most of my life, I struggled with crippling thoughts of self-doubt, loneliness and depression. Every decision I made was extremely difficult, even if it was minor. If things didn’t go well, I’d be crushed by the feeling of letting everyone down. These anxieties played into my experiences as a student leader. How could I find the motivation to do things when I struggled with getting out of bed? How could I make decisions for everyone when I could barely make decisions for myself? These were daily challenges I faced, but Princeton gave me things and people I could depend on — friends to laugh at jokes with till 3 in the morning, roommates to bicker with and who became my family away from home. It also gave me an outlet for my anxieties. I learned ceramics my first year and continued making pottery in the Wilson College ceramics studio throughout my time here. When I felt drowned by my own thoughts, throwing a pot on the wheel always helped me center myself and think. It wasn’t competitive; it didn’t affect my future; it was something I did solely for myself without the judgment of others. Ceramics gave me much-needed time to reflect and remember why I was doing what I did. Even when things got tough, remembering the why helped me through it. I got involved with student government because I wanted to give back and help my class. I took my role seriously because I genuinely cared & wanted everyone to feel like they belonged. I didn’t want others to feel the way I did. Working in class government, serving on the Alcohol Initiative and being a residential college adviser were ways for me to do that. I’m disappointed how things ended, but I’m looking forward to the future — this is just the beginning for the Great Class of 2020.” — Juston Forte ’20 (@j40money); 📷: David Kelly Crow #Princetagram #Princeton20

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#TellUsTigers: “Arriving at Princeton in fall of my first year, I thought of one thing most: dance. Even with all the other oohs and ahhs of my new-campus life — lively orientations, compelling classes, new friends — I cared most about how I would continue my passion for ballet and contemporary dance. When I auditioned for diSiac, I was inspired by the company’s unmatched talent (I am still blown away every rehearsal). What I did not expect was to be equally blessed with the best family on campus! Not only is diSiac a student-run community of incredibly devoted artists, they fill my time at #PrincetonU with endless comfort, laughs and craziness, in and out of rehearsal. There is something so special about the way diSiac embraces its members not only as dancers, but as people. Because of it, I have grown so much. There is an indescribable connection that exists between all diSiac dancers, what we love to call ‘diSi-magic.’ We have a saying to remind us of this feeling, ‘You think you know, but you have no idea.’ I truly didn’t know I’d ever be in Paris dancing with @LiamALynch ’21 (left) & @FabiolaCorral4 ’21 (right)! In June, we parted ways for internships. Through @princetonoip’s International Internship Program, I’m working at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm, Sweden (and taking ballet at @balettakademiensthlm). As a Princeton Streicker Fellow, Fabiola is conducting neuroscience research at ESPCI’s Brain Plasticity Lab in Paris. Liam is a risk engineering intern at R+V Versicherung in Germany, where he is also training at @urban.dance.camp! But of course diSiac brought us together. When Liam & I visited Fabiola for Bastille Day, diSi-magic was on full blast! Even after walking almost 25k steps around Paris, we were still pumped to film a concept video, now live on @disiacdance. For me, this trip & this photo are an extraordinary reminder that diSiac is larger than Princeton’s campus. I am grateful to say it is wherever life takes us, and, above all, forever. So, even if I think I know, I still have no idea where it will take me next.” — Dana Iverson ’21; photo by @Cristina.Hain ’21 #Princetagram #PrincetonAbroad

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#TellUsTigers: “Shortly after I started at Princeton in 2013, the meningitis B outbreak began. My boss at the time, Dr. Pete Johnson, asked, ‘Did you ever think you would become a public health nurse?’ I was an ER nurse who became a nurse manager and educator. But over the next 2 years I had the chance to work with the CDC and to learn about epidemiology, the spread of disease and how fearful people are of the unknown. In the ER, you have to be prepared for the unknown and for how to make good decisions in times of stress and uncertainty. Nursing is not just a career — it is a way of life. We take care of people. At #PrincetonU, we have a lot of people to keep safe and healthy. I have children and I’d want my children to be taken care of how we take care of our University community. The University coronavirus team includes me, a physician who specializes in infectious disease and representatives from many departments across campus. Right now I am carrying out contact tracing and continuing to educate University Health Services staff on preparedness: creating processes for different scenarios, how to triage concerned students who are staying on campus, ordering supplies and personal protective equipment so we are safe, supporting Princetonians who are away from campus, and trying my best to allay fears. What I love about this team is how organized and collaborative we are. Our shared mission is to keep campus safe. I check the CDC website daily and watch the news (factual and not) in order to respond to concerns. On my ride to work, I blast my music to get me ready — I love Prince, @JanelleMonae and old school house music. When I need a few minutes during the day to gather my thoughts I play Candy Crush! The most important things I want people to know during the coronavirus: Always wash your hands; stay calm, we got your back; and be kind to others, smiles are free and kindness costs nothing.” — Tanesha Brown, Nurse Manager, University Health Services; photo by David Kelly Crow #Princetagram #COVID19 #FlattenTheCurve #WorkingAtPrinceton @workingatprinceton #NJThanksYou

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#TellUsTigers: “Balancing graduate school and motherhood is challenging, but I have it much easier than many working mothers in our nation. My mother cleans houses for affluent folks living in my hometown. She's been doing this for as long as I can remember. Contemplating the secrets of the universe is a privilege generally not afforded to those who struggle to make ends meet; for many, the strained conditions of our cultural landscape make up ‘the visible universe.’ I became co-founder of Astronomy on Tap: Trenton — a public outreach project supported by the Department of Astrophysical Sciences — so that the underserved members of my community can learn about the astrophysical wonders that have brought me so much joy. Through AoT, I hope to share that there is also a world of supernovae enriching the cosmos with the building blocks for life and extraordinary worlds orbiting distant stars. These scientific discoveries belong to all of us. AoT is a relaxed, family-friendly event where two scientists give 20-minute talks and mingle with the crowd in between. A trivia quiz lets audience members show off their astronomy knowledge. I love meeting new people at these events and hearing about their lives. My research is focused on star-planet interactions, the search for planets in stellar clusters, and exploring peculiar variable stars. The equations in the background of this photo are taken from my recent publication where we used special techniques to reveal variable stars in crowded regions of the sky.” — Melinda Soares-Furtado (@astro.melinda), graduate student. Photo: @sonyakatarina ‘20. Astronomy on Tap: Trenton events are held on the third Wednesday of the month, 6:30-9:30 p.m., at Trenton Social, a restaurant located at 449 S. Broad St., near CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey. The next event is Dec. 18. #Princetagram @princetongradlife

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#TellUsTigers #ValentinesDay edition: “On this Valentine's Day, I just want to send my complete love to Cec and let her know that I love her more and more each day. Princeton has changed our lives in so many ways and we are thankful for the chance to share our #Princetalove story. Cec (@succec) and I met our first year at Princeton during freshman orientation. We were friends throughout our first three years, which has been the best thing for our relationship. We got to see each other grow at #PrincetonU and it was that growth and maturation process that laid the groundwork for our relationship. We started dating our senior year after I messaged her over AOL Instant Messenger — crazy to think that our love outlasted that magical piece of software! Our first date was at P.F. Chang’s in Princeton. Cec spilled a lemonade on me that day but we got over it after @UsainBolt broke the world record (9.58 sec) in the 100 meters at the 2009 IAAF Championships (@worldathletics). Glad that our relationship lasted longer than that race! We were engaged at our 5th reunion at P.F. Chang's — in the same booth — after I reordered her lemonade. We were married in the Princeton University Chapel the following year, which meant the world to us as it is such an iconic landmark on campus. Our first big trip for our newborn son (@treyplumplum) was to Princeton's #TigersThrive19 conference in October 2019. As our 10th reunion approaches this year, we bleed more black and orange than ever before. Princeton was the place where we first fell in love and it is the place we go back to over and over again to renew our commitment. Here is to my smart, beautiful, talented, amazing and sassy tigress on this Valentine’s Day.” — Eric Plummer ’10 (@plummernation); photo by @lifetymephotovideo @princetonalumni #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: “To be a scientist, even a scientist at Princeton, is to be a professional fail-er. Each step of the research process offers innumerable ways to fail, and I probably have experienced them all. Hypothesis is simply wrong? Yup. There is a fatal flaw in your study design? Yes. That was the story of my senior thesis, and my master’s thesis. Submit the write-up of what you think is a beautiful, groundbreaking set of studies for publication, and the manuscript gets rejected? That happened to me just last month. I keep at it because I love what I do. Trying to wrestle a big idea into a feasible, persuasive set of studies is fun. Looking at new data still gives me the same feeling as the big drop on a roller coaster. And intellectually tousling with an open-minded critic is like a rousing game of tennis, except that my abjectly poor hand-eye coordination isn’t a hindrance. Additionally, the thrill of success and deep disappointment of failure both eventually fade, but the lessons from trying accumulate. I feel myself become more intellectually nimble when pondering over backwards data leads to new understanding. The act of writing with my students both helps me clarify my thoughts, and teach those things that one can only learn by doing. And every new research effort helps me hone the line between listening to negative feedback and persevering because my gut tells me there is something there. As head of @MatheyCollege, I am especially proud of our #EmbracetheFail campaign, designed to normalize the experience of failure. The central thing I hope you take away from my words is the value of embracing the try. Find joy in what you do, do your best and keep learning. This has given me the fortitude to keep going, even when the road gets bumpy.” — Stacey Sinclair, professor of psychology and public affairs; 📷 Pellumb Reshidi, Mathey RGS. During February, Mathey College asked people in our community whom our students trust and admire to share brief narratives of a goal unfulfilled, defeat, loss or rejection that left them disappointed or deterred. Meet the contributors at a poster gallery & reception, Feb. 27, 4:30 pm. To RSVP, DM @MatheyCollege. #Princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: “My first year at Princeton was a revelation. Music & drumming are so important to me, and when I play, I find that I am able to express what I cannot through words — it is both a powerful and empowering part of my life. After a gap year performing with the @BrubeckInst Jazz Quintet around the country and in Paraguay — I naturally expected to be playing much less when I arrived on campus. As a musician passionate about performance, I was never so happy to be wrong! Getting to play with and learn from some of my biggest musical heroes during my first year at #PrincetonU was absolutely unreal. In just my first semester, I found myself performing in Richardson Auditorium with Blue Note trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire. And spring semester, at the inaugural Princeton University Jazz Festival's headlining concert with bass legend #DaveHolland, followed by a big band concert — led by the amazing @DarcyJamesArgue, director of Princeton’s Creative Large Ensemble — where I traded solos onstage with one of my drum idols, @TerriLyneCarrington. Rudresh Mahanthappa (@rudreshkm), world-renowned saxophonist and director of the Program in Jazz Studies, was instrumental in making all of this happen — learning from him has been incredible. Very importantly, I’ve made deep connections and friendships with extremely talented musician-students here, forming the jazz group Voyage, and I’m part of an indie/rock band with Julien Chang ’22 (@JulienChangMusic) — last year we opened for @BeachFossilsnyc at Lawn Parties. This year I’m looking forward to playing with Rudresh on Oct. 12 in Richardson as part of his Tiger Quartet & to performing with Julien at his album release show 10/15 @babysallright in Brooklyn followed by a European tour during fall break! Balancing schoolwork, practicing & performing is a challenge, forcing me to be very disciplined. I try to get in 1-3 hours of practice daily; while it isn't easy, every day I realize how fortunate I am to be able to get this world-class education — which strongly informs my playing & overall musicianship — while pursuing my dreams as a professional drummer.” — @MayaStepansky ’22; video by David Kelly Crow #princetagram

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#TellUsTigers: “I met Rudy in fall of my sophomore year at Whitman dining hall. Whether you call it divine providence, luck or serendipity, all I know is that I could not be more thankful that I happened to be wearing my FC Barcelona shirt that day, because it led to a conversation and ensuing friendship that is one of the most impactful parts of my Princeton experience. This friendship grew over the subsequent days and weeks, as Rudy, upon learning of my food sensitivities, kindly cooked gluten- & dairy-free dishes for me. He even gave me a hand-woven bookmark from his native Guatemala and cooked me up some Guatemalan dishes as he told me stories about his life there. One night, however, I was feeling exhausted from the demands of pre-med coursework. Rudy instantly sensed that and asked if I was okay; I told him that as much as I wanted to be a doctor, the constant grind was beginning to take its toll. Then, Rudy shared a story that I will never forget: Growing up in Guatemala, his one dream was to become a doctor. His father lived in the U.S., and there was only enough money for one of his children to join him; Rudy’s sister got to go. The plan was for her to work so that she could help pay for Rudy’s medical school in Guatemala. However, her experience did not go as planned and she returned home. At that time, Rudy’s girlfriend had a child, and the new life to take care of, combined with a lack of financial means, meant Rudy could not attend med school. He then told me that being a doctor will be incredibly hard. He said that there will be days like this, days when you’re tired & you simply don’t feel like you can keep going. But he also said that he knew just as well as I did that this was what I was meant to do & if I had the opportunity to live my dream, I could not let that go. He told me that he was living his dream vicariously through me. Overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for Rudy’s friendship, I was imbued with a sense of perspective about my career journey and place in the world. I’m proud to call Rudy a friend for life. — Michael Lotito ’20 (@mlotito15); 📷 Hope vanCleaf @creativefingerprint #Princetagram @Princeton_Dining #WorkingAtPrinceton

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#TellUsTigers: “I thought that going to Princeton would help me grow, but my first two years, I found myself more lost and confused than ever. I decided to take a year off to find myself, and through meeting a few loving and compassionate people, I somehow did get a better sense of who I am! One thing I realized was how much resentment I had towards being and being seen as a Chinese American woman. When I returned to #PrincetonU, I wanted to try something new, so I enrolled in my first acting class (with @Nehassaiu deGannes, lecturer in theater) and gained a deep appreciation for the work. Learning how to embody others gave me the tools to become more aware of my own patterns and work through them. After that class, I decided to pursue a theater certificate. (I also founded @childsplayimprov my senior year because I believe in the magic of comedy and laughter & I wished for more opportunities for that on campus!) For my senior thesis, I performed a solo show based on my experiences interviewing Asian Americans in San Francisco and traveling to my mother’s hometown, Wuhan, China, to visit my extended family, learn more about my heritage and find more love for that part of myself. (Two years later & how much has that city changed to the world?) In summer 2018, when I started trying to find strangers to interview, my first idea was to make a cardboard sign and wait. After a couple hours, I got no interviews, some strange looks and one person who thought I needed help. When I pushed myself to approach people though, I was surprised by how much they shared. I heard the stories of an older Korean man who owns 400 language dictionaries and was planning a trip home (he hadn’t been since his son’s wedding 20 years ago), and many others. It’s surreal to reflect on those experiences now, during #COVID19, since I’m trying so hard to avoid everyone! That summer, I could become a part of a total stranger’s life by just asking. I don’t want to ever forget that feeling because I know that everything in the world — other people, events — is a foil to your own experience.” — Julia Yu ’19 (@goodjuyu); 📷 by Felicity Audet ’21 (@felicitousphotography) #Princetagram @PrincetonArts

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