Many of you are just arriving on campus. You feel the same way. You are pulsing with a nervous excitement. If you feel overwhelmed it is because, perhaps for the first time in your life, you have been brought to a place where in your short time here you could not possibly take everything in. Your life is just beginning.
It is naive, naturally, to think that this energy and enthusiasm will always hold constant. There will be difficult deadlines and assignments everyone would rather leave untouched. More seriously, there will be difficult times for you personally. You will have all the amazing resources of this campus to help you confront these challenges, and yet you will have to take that first step of reaching out for help.
It is equally unfounded, however, to think that the novelty and wonder of a place like Princeton simply wears off after the first semester. Rather, it waxes and wanes with the weeks. Everyone loves Princeton in the fall, but would rather be in Jamaica come Dean’s Date. When life on campus is grand and golden, hold on to your happiness and your awe as long as possible, lock them in a special corner of your mind, let them lift your sails as you glide through the blissful days when the air is crisp and clean and the smell of apple cider wafts around every corner. And at long last, after months of good cheer, when the fateful day arrives on which you know for certain you’d rather be somewhere — anywhere — far, far away, go there in your mind, remember how happy you were and think: How can I be that happy here again?
The same precept applies for all of us. Princeton is simultaneously one of the most diverse and yet most insular college campuses in the Northeast. We can choose to stress about academic deadlines and decisions, or we can open our eyes to life outside the Orange Bubble and recognize just how privileged we are. Many of us spent the summer traveling and working in the real world and saw firsthand, for example, that many of Europe’s most developed countries face a staggering 25 percent unemployment or that children in Africa go hungry. Wake up. Be happy. Now more than ever is a fantastic time to be a student, if not for the freedom and imaginative possibility, then for its security.
I left Princeton last May with more than a heavy heart. This rising senior lugged a backpack and two suitcases — the smaller laden with clothes and toiletries, the larger filled with books. I was bound for Europe with the best of intentions: In my spare time, I would get a head start on my thesis. I was leaving behind a particularly rough semester and bringing with me, besides my scholarly ambitions, doubt and denial. The last conversation before boarding the plane was with my mother. “You’re a senior now. Not only do you have a thesis to write, you also have less than a year to decide what you want to do. Grad school or law school?”
A month later, by the time I had lost my Harvard Law School borrow-direct book at a Neapolitan villa — did I mention the 5 euro house wine? — run by a woman who cooks far too well to check her email, I realized that the summer had more in store for me than academic reading. Over three months in Italy and Germany, I let myself fall prey to the intoxicating lure of la dolce vita. Since my first exposure to ancient history as a child, I had dreamed of visiting Rome, but I little anticipated that life in the Eternal City would feel so much in itself like a dream. Princeton, with all its deadlines, gossip and artificial stress, seemed like ancient history amid the world’s most treasured relics.
Princeton looms large on my horizons again. It will be a big year for me and many of my classmates. With any luck, by its end we’ll have finished our theses and have landed a job, fellowship or spot in graduate or professional school. And yet, before we get too anxious, let’s take a deep breath. Do you feel that? It’s fall in Princeton again.
Brandon Bark is a Classics major from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.