The day you were accepted and chose Princeton was a defining moment in your life. It was the reward forof a lifetime of work and study and growth. Though there are thousands of other well qualified applicants, your acceptance is the natural culminationof the person you’ve spent your first 18 years becoming.
The University has now spent the entirety of frosh week celebrating your very existence and preparing you for what is to come. Soon, what you have been looking forward to since admission and have been working towards for so long will actually begin. The anticipation of moving in and actually beginning the school year will fade away, and you’ll begin to make your way through stack after stack of books and draft after draft of essays.
More likely than not, you’ll find that it is hard. Maybe you aren’t quite the writer or the mathematician everyone thought you were in high school. To thrive in this environment, you'll have to do the grunt work. It won't be enough that you grew up reading just to fudge your way through vocabulary tests. You’ll learn that, maybe, you never knew what it meant to work hard.
Despite the difficulties you’ll inevitably face and the self-doubt that will creep in on so many levels, you do belong here. The Office of Admission didn’t make a mistake. You aren’t an impostor. You belong here. You deserve to be here.
But you also aren’t particularly exceptional. You are neither the mistake in the Admission algorithm, nor the genius for whom these four years should be a cakewalk. If you let it, Princeton will inflate your ego and destroy the very things it wanted to foster in you when it accepted you. Time and time again, you’ll be told, “it’s Princeton, after all.” It’s a statement you’ll soon find out is used to justify anything.
You deserve to be here, but so do thousands of other high school students who got rejected and could easily and eagerly have taken your place. If you let the fact that you were accepted here define you, if you begin to let the name of an institution replace you, you will soon find yourself far outstripped by students at mediocre schools like Columbia and Penn.
Rather than puff you up, Princeton is supposed to humble you and then build you up. If you don’t approach Princeton with the capacity to grow, it will break you. You’ll fail like you’ve never failed before. You can let the realization of your own inadequacies crush you, or you can be thankful for the opportunity to improve, cognizant that however impressed the world will be that you went to Princeton, that glamor will soon fade if not followed up by real substance.
In his recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks quotes Terence J. Tollaksen and says the "'big' decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones." Choosing to go to Princeton was certainly a “big” decision. It’s a name that will sell you well for the rest of your life. But how you spend your days here, whether or not you believe in the process and do justice to the work, responsibilities, and gifts that are put in front of you on a daily basis, that is how you will spend your life.
Your time at Princeton is too rare of an opportunity to waste it by treating it like just another stepping-stone. You have to live this process, step by step, day by day. So I implore you, choose to live in the moment, and at the end of your four years you’ll be able to say, “at least I had my eyes wide open, experienced Princeton for what it is, and I let it do its work on me.”Luke Gamble is an English major from Eagle, Idaho. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.