When I first stepped on Princeton’s campus four years ago, I could not imagine all the ways I would grow before walking out of FitzRandolph Gate again. My expectations were that of any incoming freshman: I would learn from professors who were experts in their field. I would become a better writer and critical thinker through my academic and extracurricular work. I would gain a new sense of direction concerning my professional interests and pursuits. I did not, however, want Princeton to change me fundamentally. Hundreds of miles away from my family, friends and the only home I had ever known, I feared what would happen if I let Old Nassau erode what had grounded my identity — my Louisiana roots, my Jamaican and Ethiopian culture and the people I had loved from all these places.
I refused to let attending Princeton define me.
As my time here comes slowly comes to an end, I am comforted by this thought of sameness. I’m still a bit too quirky, too easy-going. I still enjoy good books and warm summer days. It would be a lie, however, to say I’m leaving Princeton the same way I entered. To do so would discount the courses I’ve taken, the people I have met and the experiences that I have had. And while they have not defined me as a person, their influence is undeniable.
It is difficult to quantify change, especially because it often happens when we are least aware of it. But as I reflect on my time here, these changes reveal themselves in what seems to be the everyday, the most mundane of moments: giving a presentation in Spanish on the implications of globalization on human rights; writing for the ‘Prince’ every month on a broad range of themes, from the Syrian refugee crisis to campus voting; helping spearhead a new student group to address the challenges that low-income and first-generation students face.
These academic and extracurricular moments have made me a more confident, determined person. Even so, they alone cannot account for the most fundamental experiences of university. In fact, many would argue that they are the least important. A presentation does not compare to holding my best friend in my arms as she mourned the loss of her aunt. My columns cannot compete with exploring the arches and alleyways of Barri Gòtic in Barcelona. And as impactful as student organizations have been on my Princeton experience, being exposed to the work of black feminists like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis and bell hooks have let me explore my own identity and, in a way, come into my blackness, womanhood and sexuality.
It is easy to understand why admitted student Lea would have been resistant to letting Princeton change her. As great and renowned as Princeton is, I understood that the space I was entering was not initially created for someone like me — a low-income, first-generation black woman with no prior connections to the university.
Yet as time progressed, I realized that the Princeton of prestige would not be the Princeton that changed me. The Princeton that would change me involved the invaluable female mentorship I received from my professors and advisors, the organizations into which I invested my time and energy, the trips I decided to take and the people I decided to love.
My experiences at Princeton are at once unique and universal. We each have different moments that change us, challenge us and cause us to diverge from the paths — and selves — we had originally imagined. These four years would be futile without these transformations. Still, we define those transformative experiences. We seek them out. We mold them and, in turn, they mold us.
We should never fear that Princeton defines us — we define Princeton. For me, that has been the most gratifying experience of all.
Lea Trusty is a politics major from Saint Rose, La. She can be reached at email@example.com.