My memory of receiving Tilghman’s email on Saturday seems to be colored by Hollywood-esque sound editing — the roar of Saturday brunch fades away as Tilghman’s own voice read and reread the words of her letter to me.
Perhaps this sentiment is a little cliche; the memory itself is almost certainly influenced by my recent viewing of “You’ve Got Mail.” I’ve never studied with Tilghman — she never advised my independent work, oversaw my USG project or invited me to a trustee meeting, focus group, alumni meeting or any other event. My closest contact has been at the Council of the Princeton University Community meetings, but the bulk of my familiarity comes from public speeches and reports or articles she has authored over the past few years.
My experience Saturday morning was similar to my first moments in Tilghman’s presence, when the Class of 2013 gathered in the cathedral on my first day as a real Princetonian. Her words, truly echoing in the vaulted cathedral, resonated with the strange mix of emotions I had been feeling for the past week: excitement, fear, inadequacy, pride, anxiety, hope and love. I was awestruck as this figurehead, the president of Princeton University, demonstrated such an awareness of the freshman experience. She was using her podium to validate our feelings and steward us out of homesickness and into our new home.
After receiving the announcement Saturday morning, I reread Tilghman’s address at my freshman opening ceremonies — I urge you all to do the same — and was again struck by a wave of emotions. Tilghman has a profound skill of connecting with her audience — be they freshmen, seniors, alumni or the general public — by blending sentimentality with humor, encouragement and pride.
Tilghman has so consistently demonstrated a level of care and attention to student life that we’ve begun to take her involvement for granted. And, as we move forward in the search for a new president, I hope the search committee will remember what an important skill that is. For Princeton, the past decade has witnessed growth in everything from research capabilities to the arts to campus cohesion. But those accomplishments aren’t, to me, what ought to be viewed as Tilghman’s legacy at Princeton. Her presidency hasn’t been about her accomplishments — which are striking in their size and benefit to the University — but instead about those of her students. At each milestone, from the opening ceremony to commencement, she reaches out to the receiving class, using a speech to respond to the emotional state of its members, share their Princeton memories and inspire their future as Princetonians, inside and outside the gates.
For example, the Aspire campaign has been central to Tilghman’s presidency — raising the capital for the many and varied development projects Tilghman has overseen. But, in my mind, it’s her dedication to aspirations, not Aspire, that ought to be given more attention. At every opportunity, Tilghman has reminded us of her hope for our future and her belief in our power.
I’m confident that whoever is selected as our 20th president will be able to fulfill the presidential role with the University Board of Trustees, continue to break ground on new buildings and attract new faculty members. Finding someone with a rapport as personable and inspirational as Tilghman’s will perhaps be the greatest challenge, and accordingly the most important. Princeton is no doubt far more than the buildings, professors and research that outlast the Pre-Rade to P-Rade bounds of our time here — it would be a mistake if the memory of Tilghman — who possesses such a connection to students and a dedication to inspiring their growth — focused only on her contributions in those fields.
Lily Alberts is an economics major from Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/23/31201/