Rewind to a year ago. I sat as a young, optimistic freshman writing the triumphant conclusion of my Writing Seminar research paper. My cousin sat next to me putting the finishing touches on her thesis. The 13 pages I was so proud to accomplish in the final weeks of the spring semester were side by side with the 117 she had developed over the course of an entire year. Inside the dark, somewhat musty metal box, I was having my first true encounter with the Princeton Circle of Life. As I looked at the inspirational quotes lining the walls, the books lined up on the shelf and even the small piece of paper in the window declaring the carrel as hers, I was seeing my future. It was a taste of the experience that would be the culmination of my Princeton academic life. Not only was it a glimpse into my future, it was her present and it was the past of countless alumni. The carrel, in its unassuming location at the center of the C-floor, was home to an experience that was not bound by time. Instead it was a transcendent space, a place that held memories of struggle, despair, dedication and success. The small area was filled with these lingering emotions, heavier due to the surrounding silence, and they rested on my shoulders as I wrote. I sat there, anticipating that in three years I would reenter this place and have a space of my own to fill and add to the journeys of others encapsulated by these time capsules. To my dismay, I learned that in Princeton’s effort to move ever onward and upward, the carrels will be gone next year.
Since the opening of Firestone in 1948, 500 metal carrels have housed 65 years of Princetonians weathering the academic adventure that is the senior thesis. Of course, they have also housed Princetonians engaging in other kinds of adventures ... but doesn’t that just add to their historical credibility? Within those metal walls people have loved, they have lost (hours of their lives) and they have pushed themselves to the very edge, only to emerge triumphant on the other side. I know that this rose-colored view is primarily due to the fact that I never actually had to lock myself inside one of these metal jail cells with barely-oxygenated air. I have never drifted off and dreamt of the metal walls closing in on me as I furiously retype 50 lost pages of my work. No, that has never happened to me ... but the point is that now it never will. I mean, probably. I, along with all Princetonians to come, will be set loose on the thesis trail without a carrel.
What I will have is a locker. A locker to store all my books in. Cue painful flashback to the bottom corner locker I had the misfortune of owning in the 10th grade. I’m talking awkward encounters, uncomfortable crouching and textbook avalanches for days. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Locker Life Part II. Furthermore, say what you will about the carrels’ cramped interior — I like to think that the small space keeps ideas and intellectual breakthroughs close by, swirling about no more than an arm’s length away. Relegating political journals, mid-19th century novels and scientific papers to a locker removes the critical human aspect. You cannot properly bond with your sources because the degree of separation is too great. Unless you are willing to fully revert to high school and be stuffed into your locker courtesy of a Nelson Muntz equivalent, you will never develop the intimate senior/source relationship that was possible in the carrel era.
Like the horse-drawn carriage and the pager, the carrel will soon be an artifact of the past. Something that the generations before us will remember fondly with time and the generations after us will not quite understand. But we, the students who expected a carrel to contain our academic endeavors and subsequent emotions, will feel the loss. As the final curtain falls on the Firestone carrels, all I can do is offer a standing ovation for their outstanding years of service. We will never forget.