Two years ago, I stayed on campus for Princeton Reunions to perform in a play. As a beneficiary of Reunions housing, I was given the task of walking in the P-Rade, carrying the banner of the Princeton Class of 1940 with a friend of mine. Today, I reminisce about walking down Elm Drive that day, a walk that was much like walking through history. But this history was not the kind marked down in books for someone on the outside looking in. Rather, it was the history written on the faces of the people it had brought together, those same people that lined the path to Bloomberg arch as we made our way through the P-Rade.
Marching with one of the older classes represented, I was able to witness alumni from seventy years to present. At first, I saw only unfamiliar, yet joyful, elderly faces, all excited for one more victorious march down the streets of their alma mater. As we continued, I saw small children raised on the shoulders of parents, donning tiger ears and those strangely endearing shirts that marked them for the Princeton Class of 2026. Beyond this, young alumni passed out beers to their predecessors and shouted cheers in youthful celebration of their return. And as Bloomberg drew ever nearer, I saw the graduates of the Class of 2010 — people I knew and cared about, fellow Princetonians with whom I had celebrated countless Thursday nights, those students who I took to be my family away from home, and, of course, those ridiculous individuals who would take even that moment to hand me a Bud Light, in spite of the banner wobbling precariously in my grip.
It was that day that I understood what Princeton meant to me, and why I, like those many alumni, will always seek to return home for this annual event. It is a place that fosters community and relationships, a home base for the ever-traveling feet of the industrious, and a basic unit of shared experience that unites the young and old who have treaded the paths we walk here. It is encouraging to know, should I be wearing a Princeton sweater in an unfamiliar place, that someone who attended this University would more likely than not strike up a conversation about their own time here, about which eating club we were or were not in, about which traditions have remained, and those that are no longer.
In spite of what has changed on this campus over the past few decades, the connection to something larger remains, and that is what Reunions has brought home to me over my time at Princeton. As freshmen, sophomores and juniors, my friends and I sought out excuses to be here for the joy of this glorious event. Here, we spent treasured moments of careless freedom — a rarity at Princeton — chasing shots with the lo mein we found in our half-empty fridges, gossiping about whose wristband got cut off for underage drinking at the 5th Reunions tent, and creating memories that will resurface for every Reunions to come. And now, after three years of having been witness to this enthralling homecoming as an undergraduate, I have become a real part of it as a graduating senior, enfolding myself in the organic and powerful network that springs from these shared revelries. It is exciting and powerful. It is touching and inspiring. It is nostalgic and hopeful. And above all, it is home — not because of the buildings that paint the beautiful landscape that is Princeton’s campus, but because of those students-cum-family who have populated them over the years.
As Bloomberg Arch loomed ahead for me, I rarely reflected on the times I had writing my independent work at Princeton, or the lectures I did or did not attend. Instead, I thought about the day I handed in my thesis, and the friends that celebrated with me in spite of their own looming deadlines. I reminisced about pretending to cram for a final exam with friends, when all we really wanted to do was watch one more episode of “Greek” and grab a Wa sandwich. I remember walking in the 25th Reunions tent and being overwhelmed by the sheer number of alumni that return, year after year. And upon seeing this, I remember making a promise with those I hold dear here that we, too, would always try to return.
It is from these moments that I learned that what makes Princeton amazing is not the brand name, or the world it opens up to its students. It is simply the people it has brought to me. And when I charged through Bloomberg arch on Saturday, ending one history with Princeton as I begin another, it was those same people that ran beside me, who continued to make every moment as quintessentially Princeton as it is, and ever will be.
Joey Barnett is an anthropology major from Tulare, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.