We all know that Princeton is not in dire need of cash. The endowment is making money, and there is no shortage of funding earmarked for causes such as international programs, student organizations, the creative and performing arts and financial aid. The University doesn’t really need a few dollars from graduating seniors. Instead, the strongest arguments in favor of Annual Giving are ideological. Like Brodie’s column, they suggest that it is morally good to donate to Princeton, and, furthermore, that spending four years here — and benefiting from its riches — entails an obligation to “give back.” I am extremely suspicious of this premise.
As a financial aid student, I have been told repeatedly that I must “give back” because I have benefited so much from Princeton’s generous financial aid. But I was able to attend Princeton in the first place specifically because of its no-loans policy. You don’t have to pay the University back — that’s the point. Instead, you can transform that money into intellectual and personal growth: books read, ideas had, independent work written, character built, friendships, mentorships and other interpersonal connections made. You can realize your individual capability for human flourishing and use your education to do good in a way that’s best for you. I’d like to think I’ve shown my gratitude for my scholarship throughout the past four years: trying my hardest at my schoolwork, remaining very involved in institutional committee work and other kinds of campus activism and serving as a mentor to younger students both as an RCA and in other less formal contexts. And now my commitment is done. I didn’t sell Princeton my soul for a financial aid grant; I don’t owe the University for the rest of my life.
I agree in the broadest terms that it’s morally good to help the next generation of young adults. But why do we owe that primarily to Princeton students, and why primarily in terms of money? If we are speaking in terms of moral obligation, can I not fulfill the kind of obligation that Annual Giving claims to represent by becoming — as I hope to become — a university professor? Princeton students are not the only university students in the world, and teaching young people to read the texts of the past surely furthers the general intellectual and social good as much as does a financial contribution to Princeton’s general fund, destined for who knows what budget item. Believe me, I’ll pay my dues to the next generation of young people seeking intellectual growth. But in my own way.
These four years have helped me to grow into an adult and an intellectual. I’ve learned how to be a humanist in all senses: someone who, I hope, cultivates a profound sense of love for and duty to humanity in all its guises, to the connections that spring up between us and to the things that we share across times and places. What I treasure most about this University is that it has taught me how many more things there are in the world than exchanges of money and elite suburban colleges. How best to do good in the world is certainly a very personal decision, and some may feel that participating in Annual Giving is the answer for them. But if I did not believe that my ethical obligations and ambitions need reach beyond our Orange Bubble, or if I failed to recognize that it is possible to outgrow and to transcend my undergraduate experience, I’d feel I would be throwing away my Princeton education. It’s time for me to take what I’ve gotten at Princeton and to move outside the University with it. This is what we’re all supposed to do — it’s why our motto is “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations,” and why, when we graduate, we walk symbolically out of the FitzRandolph Gate.
Come on: We’re Princeton students. We can be a little more ambitious, dream a little bigger and morally challenge ourselves a bit more intensively.
Emily Rutherford is a history major from San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.