From the moment we first enter the FitzRandolph gate to commencement, we Princetonians have an endless supply of work. We have lab reports, compositions, research papers, applications for internships, full theses, and even articles for extracurricular activities. The deluge of work never ceases. Even on days when we think we have caught up, we find ourselves back in the endless cycle of procrastination a week later. The most remarkable aspect I have found about this workload, however, is not its magnitude. I personally have faced heavy workloads before Princeton and will probably face even worse ones as a professional. Instead, what amazes me the most is that most of the students here, if not all, strive to do their best. And on a campus like ours, best means original.
Originality is the cornerstone of Princeton education. From our first writing seminar paper to our senior thesis, we hear one piece of advice over and over again: make sure that the paper is creative and adds to the academic discussion. We spend weeks upon weeks outlining our papers to be as discernible as possible from other existing literature rather than actually writing them. Originality becomes the sole purpose of our work instead of a goal. However, this obsession with creating something new has become a detriment to the quality of education that each Princetonian earns during his or her sojourn in this campus. We need to learn that our work matters not because it is yet another act of creation, but because it represents the materialization of our genuine interests.
I have had a Google Docs account for the past four years. In those four years, I have written countless pages for research papers and lab reports. In fact, the first thing I see when I open my Google Docs account are the dozen papers I have already written in my freshman year. Each took at least a week’s worth of effort and represented the best that I could have written at the time. In many of these papers, I poured my soul into the intricacies of the arguments. As I look at these pieces now, I realize that I remember absolutely nothing about what I wrote. Even more surprisingly, I realize that I really do not care. My topics mattered to only myself, and furthermore, this interest lasted for a very short time. Despite my attempts and efforts to be unique and add to the academic discussion, I failed to maintain my own interest in my topics. My feeble attempts at creation led to papers that seemed original, but lacked all vitality to myself and the few professors who had to read them.
I failed to create papers of merit because I was fixated upon the idea that I had to be creative. In doing so, I chose literary paths that had more of a shock value than genuine interest to me. I did not believe that my papers would be worth the long and intricate process of writing if they did not have the capacity to elicit responses from my readers. Only now do I realize that my papers, despite their originality or their merits, were read only by a precious few people who had to read them in order to give me a grade. All of my past work and probably most of my future work will be disregarded by the majority of those within my own field of study. My papers will be passing blips in the wide, long river of academic writing. I therefore cannot write with the purpose of eliciting emotions from my nonexistent readers.
This does not mean, however, that we should stop aiming for originality with our work. Originality is a key component of academic writing. It is the failsafe protecting literature from becoming dogma. Without the ability to see things from another angle, there would be no advancement in our knowledge in any field, and we would essentially trap ourselves within the confines of existing academic work. However, originality for the sake of originality denies this key advantage in creativity. Every piece of research that is created only for its shock value hides the lack of passion and genuine interest behind its supposed creativity. In these papers, forced originality becomes the death of good writing and our will to create.
Therefore, we should create our papers not because we need to be original, but because we want to explore our topics. In fact, I write this article today not because my editor is breathing down my neck, but because I want to see where this topic can go. I want to see how my thinking process develops as I place my thoughts on this page. I want to see what others may think about my critique about Princeton’s overdone emphasis on creativity for the sake of creativity. It is possible that this article will be submerged by the tsunamis of fantastic columns created across the world. However, I will not forget this article’s message because I have written it as a testament, not as an assignment. My curiosity in how my arguments will be interpreted and argued for or against transforms this article from an overdue paper to a true act of creation.
Daehee Lee is a freshman from Palisades Park, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.