Big mistake. He snarled and started running straight at me with no visible trace of fear or hesitation. I screamed loudly and sprinted away, not stopping until I reached Wilcox and yanked the doors shut behind me.
That was one of the first lessons that Princeton taught me: Stay away from the goddamn squirrels.
There were to be many more. Let sleeping Princetonians lie. Wilson’s walls are thin. You don’t need to carry your U-Store card to get your discount. That’s a heater, not an axe murderer hammering at your window. The optimum time to get a cup of coffee from Witherspoon’s on your way to class is 11-12 minutes before said class. How to snag a Frist classroom. How to bullshit my way through a precept. How to navigate the deep bowels of Firestone. How to study in the midst of jungle uproars and utter silence; with music and without music; lying down, sitting, half asleep in bed, standing; in libraries, in dining halls, by fountains, on lawns; at any hour of the day. Substitute “study” with “sleep,” and you have yet another hard-earned skill.
And there were the serious lessons. As a graduating senior, I can officially say that out of all the classes that I’ve taken here, there is only one, just one, that I would go back and drop. Every single one — sometimes in fields that I had never even been aware of before — broadened my mind, taught me something valuable, changed my outlook or simply fascinated me by virtue of the sheer coolness of what I was learning. And those snippets of knowledge have come from all over the academic world: philosophy, molecular biology, French theatre, politics, chemistry, classics, anthropology and more. So I learned the value of a liberal arts education too.
I learned how to think. I remember my very first reading assignment at Princeton. Our professor asked us to identify what arguments we disagreed with, and why, and to come to precept with questions. I had the questions covered. But disagree? With an author who had published a book on the subject and had likely spent years sorting carefully through this material? On what freaking basis? I went on, however, to devote 30 pages of my senior thesis to defeating the arguments of a well-known Aristotelian philosopher. What’s more, I agreed with her conclusions; I simply didn’t agree with the path she took to get to them. That’s the kind of nuance and critical thinking that Princeton taught me: the ability to question the logic and success of an argument and the confidence to defend my own measly 21-year-old undergraduate opinion with all the force of a titan.
Our civically minded motto “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations” was a concept that I had always embraced in abstract before college but had never filled in with practical applications. I learned those at Princeton, both in class and from the inspiring students around me who had already found ways to start giving back to the community. And I believe that we all must find ways of giving back in whatever form we can. A Princeton education is too valuable to waste simply on the betterment of our own lives. It merits more.
I learned that sometimes it’s worthwhile to blow off all my work to hang out with friends … and sometimes it’s not. I had almost every single opinion that I walked in here with challenged, debated, sometimes replaced and sometimes strengthened, and I’ll be walking out of FitzRandolph Gate with a host of new ones. I learned how to juggle numerous commitments and activities and how to fit more than 24 hours into a day. I learned how to be a good friend, because let’s face it, we got each other through these four years, and we couldn’t have done the papers, the problem sets, the performances, the finals or the Dean’s Dates alone.
I had great conversations, great nights, great classes; the most memorable “firsts” and the most heartbreaking “lasts”; I made great friends and the occasional great enemy; and I wrote, read, danced, argued, drank, cried, laughed, slept and caffeinated my way through my Princeton career. I’m not sure if I learned to be more intelligent, independent, sophisticated or social, but I do know that I’m more confident in who I am than I ever was; and I do know that my mind is a far more interesting place to live in than it was four years ago.
I will forever be grateful to Princeton and to all those who make it Princeton for these lessons. That is not to say that it’s perfect; it isn’t, and one of the most important things that I’ve learned is that it’s OK to demand more from Princeton even if it is the best old place of all. The eating club system still has a few kinks to work through. There are students who are deeply dissatisfied here, but feel unable to express their discontent in the face of a fiercely loyal orange and black cult. We have yet to weed out every trace of sexism, homophobia and racism on this campus. I didn’t love every minute. I didn’t love everyone I met or everything I did. Princeton is by no means perfect.
But then again, no home ever is.
Camille Framroze is a philosophy major from Bombay, India. She can be reached at email@example.com.