As freshmen, Kyle Weston '94 and a fellow classmate walked through the FitzRandolph Gate while rushing to Victor's Pizzeria for a slice.
"Only after the fact, slobbering at the mouth with red sauce and all, did we realize that exiting the gate prior to graduation set an immediate curse upon you," Weston said.
The myth of the FitzRandolph Gate warns that if you exit the gate before graduation, you might not graduate.
"Well, we got a few chuckles out of it — 'yeah, right, whatever!'" Weston said, "though perhaps a few 'what ifs' did gnaw at the mind — 'what if I do fail . . . what would mom and dad think.'"
The FitzRandolph Gate was initially constructed to keep townspeople off the University campus. It was built in 1905 and kept closed and locked, except during the P-rade and graduation. The graduation march through the gate, which is still observed, symbolizes the graduates' transition from the University into the larger world.
The gate was also opened occasionally to honor notable visitors, according to Matt Reeder, special collections assistant at the Mudd Manuscript Library. For example, President Grover Cleveland passed through the gate during his visit to campus.
In 1970, the gate was permanently cemented open, at the request of the Class of 1970. This gesture was intended to reflect improving relations with the town. The opening also embodied a greater significance, said Michael Taylor '05, the Orange Key historian.
"Given the student uproar over Vietnam and Cambodia, it was an attempt to symbolize that Princeton was open and responsive to the world, and not just a cloistered ivy tower," Taylor said.
Since 1970, the gate has remained open for regular use. However, the superstition that emerged shortly after the opening has caused some students to avoid the gate.
According to the myth, students may imperil their graduation by exiting the gate towards Nassau Street. However, a 1995 article in the Princeton Patron Magazine reported that students who exit might still have a chance to graduate with another class, Reeder said.
While entering the gate is apparently safe, some students still take extra precaution.
"I know people that won't walk in the gates," said Emily Moxley '05. "I always laugh at them when I walk in and they take an extra minute or two to go to one of the side gates.
Some alumni are still quite serious about observing FitzRandolph protocol. Michelle Yun '06 visited campus as a pre-frosh with Thomas F. Schrader '72. At the time, she was not aware of the myth and nearly walked out of the gate to take a photograph.
"Mr. Schrader jumped up . . . and grabbed me with both arms, pulling me back suddenly," she said.
Since the incident, Yun says she will not enter or exit the gate and will not permit anyone walking with her to do so either.
However, students that have unintentionally exited the gate are not necessarily worried. Peggy Han '02 and Kate Barber '04 each say they accidentally walked through the gate during Communiversity, the annual town-gown street fair.
"I figured I should get rid of my small superstitions," Han said, "because myth or not, I was going to graduate."
Han successfully graduated in 2002, as intended. Barber hopes for the same.
"I don't believe in superstition," Barber said, "but if I fail my accounting exam on Sunday and don't graduate, then maybe I will start."
Some students have deliberately tested the tradition. Missy Hermann '04 says she and her best friend walked out of the gate late one night sophomore year.
"I had a funny feeling taking that momentous step," Hermann said, "but on graduation, I know we'll catch each others' eye as we walk out. It's a fun memory to have between us."
There are no confirmed instances that prove the legend is actually true. In fact, Kelly Sortino '03 points out that the correlation between exiting and graduating is questionable.
"I definitely walked through FitzRandolph Gate and I still graduated in four years," Sortino said. "I had a friend who refused to walk through the gate and it still took him five years to graduate, but I guess he still graduated after all!"
Weston, who risked compromising his graduation for that slice of pizza in the early 1990s, says he was never too worried about failing.
"Luckily, as we all know," Weston said, "good old Princeton grade inflation preempted that possibility!"
Perhaps now, more than ever, we must heed tradition.