Don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not afraid of life after Princeton. I will certainly, as will we all, have great success in whatever I choose to do after Princeton. The prestige of the Princeton brand as well as the horde of fervid alumni scattered around the globe attest to that. It isn’t the future that makes me uneasy, but rather the past three years.
Over those past three years, and for the first time in my life, I found myself in a position where I very much want to do it all over again. I cannot say the same about high school. Although I had a great time in high school, achieving a modest share of academic, athletic and social success, I was entirely ready for college to begin. Despite my engaging teachers and strong friendships, I was still quite ready for the next step. I cannot say the same now.
To be frank, I would gladly flip a Princeton time-turner and return to that seemingly distant Sunday afternoon when I walked through the FitzRandolph Gate three years ago, the mysterious and exciting world of Princeton open before me. Princeton has so much to offer, and it’s saddening to think that — for me — all of that opportunity will be coming to an end in such a short while. Each time I experience some annual tradition, whether it be cross country preseason antics, Jeff Nunokawa’s welcome address at Rocky College or the frenzy of the Pre-Rade, I experience it with a touch of nostalgia, knowing that it will be the last time I witness it as a Princeton student.
The academic challenges afforded me by Princeton are unlike anything I have ever encountered. I don’t think I ever really appreciated how extensive or incredible the intellectual smorgasbord available at Princeton is until recently. Looking back, I feel as if I could have majored in any of a dozen departments and been quite content with my academic experience. Though geosciences ultimately offered the mix of camaraderie and mental stimulation right for me, the infinite number of forks down which my path at Princeton could have gone is staggering.
In this respect, Princeton is starkly different from my high school education. I feel like I could go through Princeton time after time and never have the same academic experience. I would have few complaints if I could just earn 17 different A.B. degrees over the course of the next few decades but, sadly, this too must pass. Interestingly enough, however, Princeton academics are the last reason that I don’t want to leave.
Running — both track and field and cross country — constituted and will continue to be a major part of my time here at Princeton. Having the opportunity to drop everything in the hustle and bustle of daily Princeton life and return to the track was one of the greatest blessings of the past three years. I realize that it is unlikely that I will have the chance to compete on behalf of an institution I love as dearly as Princeton. In the post-collegiate and professional ranks, there is little room for the true school spirit and pure joy of competition that arises in amateur athletics. Though I may continue to compete for many years after 2013, it will never again be with the spirit of Princeton University at my back.
This spirit is not just limited to athletics. The same holds true for many extracurricular events, such as dance and theater. Though many of us may love to compete, dance or act, the reality is that few of us will continue to do these activities after college. Even if we do, we will often be doing it for pay and not just for the inherent goodness of the deed.
The most important aspect of Princeton I’m losing, and the one that adds the most to my fear of graduation, is the Princeton community. I realize that I will never again live in a place with as great a density of intellectual firepower and as deep a history of community tradition. I will never again be so immediately surrounded by my friends and classmates, eating meals together and sharing our entire lives with one another. We will be scattered around the world, beginning our new lives independently and outside of the Princeton bubble. Though we will do our best to maintain the fantastic relationships forged during our four years here, the distance and divergence will destroy some, pushing us further into our own lives.
The same independence that once fueled my desire for college now fuels my dread of graduation. This truth has increased my resolve and, I would hope, the resolve of my classmates to to enjoy this final chance we’ve been given the often-misunderstood paradise that is the Princeton undergraduate experience.
Nathan Mathabane is a geosciences major from Portland, Ore. He can be reached at email@example.com.