Now that the frenzy of frosh week has died down, Lawnparties has passed, and classes have (at last) begun for real, a different kind of frenzy is beginning to set in on Princeton’s campus.
I’ve found myself oscillating between frenetic work and baggy-eyed late (or very early) nights on one hand, and on the other, the desire to check out and spend every interval of time developing my FIFA and napping skills, skipping readings, and Sparknote-ing before precept. I’m confronted by the fact that neither of these does Princeton justice. We joke about “work hard, play hard,” but I am not sure that either is the answer.
Each one of us has been working our whole lives to get here. But many of us quickly slip into treating Princeton as just another hoop to jump through on the way to the next big, prestigious position. We forget that these four years matter a lot in and of themselves. They are central preparation for lives of work and service that will come after, but they are also a part of those lives.
Princeton is not just another stepping stone, a means of getting to a career or grad school. It is not simply a tunnel to the next part of life. I often wonder to myself, if I were diagnosed with a disease and given five years to live, would I spend my remaining two years at Princeton? How would my mentality about my time here change? What would it mean for me to get the most out of every day — would I still rush to class, mumbling a hurried “what’s up?” to friends without waiting to hear an answer? It would suddenly become abundantly clear that the people around me in my time here are just as important as any class or assignment, if not much more so.
I, for one, consistently find myself worrying about not taking all the right classes or getting the most out of Princeton academically in order to “do Princeton right” so much that I forget just how many people would kill to be here at all. Ten years from now, you will be able to look back and not just see what job these four years got you, but you’ll also see what this time was independently of that. You’ll remember friendships forged and late-night conversations about life and love, or those times you sacrificed a fifth of a point on a problem set or a third of a letter grade on a paper to talk to a friend in need of comfort.
Enjoying my time at Princeton doesn’t mean that I need to walk around smiling and singing to myself all day — after all, as we love to say, the struggle is real — but this does mean that I need to have a keen sense that my time here is precious and valuable. Princeton is meaningful in very personal ways that the administration can’t tally up in exit surveys, employment statistics, or even GPAs. This sort of mentality can unlock an appreciation and joy in the daily grind here, that sort of joy and levity that comes from first having taken something very seriously.
On the other hand, by no means am I advocating treating this time simply as an end in itself — as a time to not work hard but to instead play hard. None of our lives ends at Princeton. Treating it as an end, justifying every lazy prompting of your soul by thinking “It’s okay, I got into Princeton and that is enough,” is just as much a waste of this precious time as treating it as no more a tunnel to the “real world.” Neither will do much to push, grow or develop you to become a person that can in any sense live in the service of this, or any other, nation.
Jack Bryan is an English major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.