In the three semesters that I’ve been a student at Princeton I have never seen such excitement surrounding a single event as I did at that match. The enthusiasm continued throughout the week, culminating in the second round nail-biter against Kentucky in Tampa, Fla. Alumni and students from around the country and around the world tuned in to watch Princeton go toe-to-toe with a basketball powerhouse and not give an inch. Yes, Princeton, an Ivy League institution renowned near and far for its academic rigor, was trading leads with a formidable, national-level team. Similarly, on Sunday, the women’s team squared off against Georgetown, one of the best teams in the country. The significance of these games goes far beyond a simple sporting event between two universities. These games represent a unification of Princetonians to celebrate our school and what we stand for: excellence in mind and body.
College means a lot of things to different people. Some go for the education, others for athletics, some for the friendships and almost all go for a degree. Weeks like this remind me that of all of the reasons to seek an undergraduate education, the most important is community. Something that a great number of us forget in the day-to-day routine of Princeton, and something which strongly impressed itself upon me during Princeton’s games, is what an amazing community Princeton can be. Cutting across class lines, closing academic divides and bridging age gaps, support of the home team brings people together like nothing else. It’s truly an incredible thing to have a member of the Class of 2014 and a member of the Class of 1961 cheering side by side with equal fervor for something they believe in. For those who contest the essential nature of athletics at an academic institution such as Princeton, I challenge you to find another area of undergraduate endeavor which so completely inspires and unites us.
Coming into Princeton from high school, I was highly skeptical of the almost cult-like reverence that college students and alumni of other institutions placed on athletic performance. I thought it comical that people would refer to their school’s team as “us” or “we,” saying, “We beat them,” or “We were so close.” I would call them out, telling them that it wasn’t they who had made the shot or won the game, but someone who just happened to go to their school and had nothing to do with the team whatsoever. What I didn’t realize was that those athletes weren’t just out there playing a game. They stand for something more than that. By donning the Princeton orange and black they act as representatives of our institution, the best representatives that Princeton has to offer in that contest. We take pride in our teams and support them because, in doing so, we are taking pride in and supporting ourselves. There is something about this blurring between our own identities and those of our athletic teams which moves people in ways nothing else can.
Princeton athletes including the men and women who played this past week and weekend inspire an additional level of pride, above and beyond the impressive feats of playing at NCAA tournaments. Athletes in the Ivy League have to deal with a tremendous amount of adversity in comparison to other schools around the country. From admissions barriers to academic workload, the Tigers are held to a much higher standard than is found throughout the NCAA. The fact that we can continue to perform at the national level athletically is something in which every Princetonian should take pride. As a school, we demonstrate that academic excellence doesn’t have to come at the price of athletic prowess.
In a place where there can be a lack of general cohesiveness and genuine togetherness, the events of this past week have been a breath of fresh air. They represent what I hope will be a renewal of the Princeton spirit that burns inside all of us. I hope that all Princetonians take pride in and respect the accomplishments of our basketball teams this past week. Like we yelled last Saturday and will continue to yell for generations to come, “GO PRINCETON!”
Nathan Mathabane is a sophomore from Portland, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.