This will be my final column for The Daily Princetonian, as well as — with the exception of a political theory paper, an astronomy final and a thesis defense — my final academic (or pseudo-academic) work as an undergraduate. I’ve spent a long time envisioning how exactly I would fill this space, perhaps with lofty pronouncements about the future of our generation and of the University, or grand revelations saved for the end (there is a CIA substation in the basement of Lewis Library, Peter Singer owns a small barbecue joint on Route 1, House of Cupcakes is a front for organized crime). And while I don’t have a juicy story to break or sweeping generalizations to offer, I do want to accomplish two final goals before my time at 48 University Place is up: first, to warn against the power of nostalgia and complacency, and second, to offer humble thanks for four wonderful years.
Tradition is a powerful force at Princeton, and it will be on full display through Reunions and graduation. Its benefits are numerous: a history of strong alumni support for the University, a network of Princetonians the world over, an expectation of academic excellence. Yet the problem with the kind of filial loyalty that tradition and nostalgia engender is that it can, at times, dull the impact of bad decisions. And though Nassau Hall does a fantastic job most of the time, it does occasionally screw up: To take just one example, grade deflation has been an unmitigated public relations disaster. To highlight another, the University’s reforms to residential life come dangerously close to large-scale social engineering, which is especially problematic when the engineers have unclear aims about what they are trying to achieve.
This acceptance of the status quo that four years in the Orange Bubble creates is dangerous to carry beyond FitzRandolph Gate, especially for members of the Millenial generation who grew up, and came to political sentience, during the peaceful years between 11/9 and 9/11. A decade ago, David Brooks connected our college experience to a trend of political apathy in his article “The Organization Kid.” While I’m skeptical of his ultimate conclusions, Brooks’ work presents a challenge to all of us as we leave the University and enter the big, bad, real world: to provide the civic and public service needed to tackle the gargantuan problems of the 21st century. The desperate poverty of much of the global south, the AIDS epidemic, entitlement spending, the achievement gap, etc. are problems our generation will face. Kicking the can down the road would be an extreme dereliction of duty.
Closer to home, though, I’d like to say thank you — both to the editors I’ve worked for, who tolerated my allergy to deadlines, but more importantly, to you. It is profoundly arrogant to think that the average Princetonian should spend her spare time, limited as it is, reading the musings of a 20 year-old about topics with which he was, in many cases, not particularly well-acquainted. Over the course of four years, on this page, I have attempted to present journalism-as-opinion: well-researched pieces on important aspects of University life about which there are opinions worth having. I know that I’ve often fallen short in that goal: interviewed too few sources or written columns at the last minute (often in non-inertial frames of reference like New Jersey Transit train cars), or fallen into the rut of writing about the uninteresting topics symptomatic of Princeton’s culture.
But despite the terrible dullness of the town of Princeton and of this University, opinion writing at the ‘Prince’ remains a worthwhile goal — if only to make immediate the problems waiting just beyond FitzRandolph Gate. Their immediacy is perhaps best summed up by Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” who observed in 1998 that “We all know that at some point in the future the universe will come to an end and, at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there’s plenty of time to worry about that,” he continued, “but on the other hand that’s a very dangerous thing to say.”
Charlie Metzger is a Wilson School major from Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/05/09/30930/