The dream, it has been said, is to find a partner of equivalent intellectual merit and productive potential as ourselves; to get married amid the towering buttresses of the University chapel, lit softly by the glow from the stained-glass windows; and to spend the rest of our days happily pursuing our interests and our goals, all the while extolling the virtues of our alma mater and contributing to its endowment in preparation for future generations, including, God willing, our own children.
But we are also told, time and time again, to become our own individuals, in order to find what matters to us, to create our own future, and to develop our own interests, both within and outside of the University that has sustained us for the past four years.
Clearly, this is a place of contradiction. We get contradictory signals when a professor cracks a half-decent joke during the middle of lecture, fostering a glimmer of hope that, perhaps, this tenured genius is more than just a curve-setting, test-writing robot. Then the midterm scores come out and poof – there goes that hope. The leaders of this institution emphasize ad nauseum that we are the future, not only of the University’s own storied legacy, but also of the country, and the world. Yet we cling so obstinately to the past with every named building and every gothic spire – Whitman College was inaugurated in 2007 just one decade ago, but the designers and planners must have worked so very hard to make it seem as if that grey brick castle has been a staple of these grounds since before Nassau Hall ever sustained cannonball damage.
We are supposed to commiserate with our peers, to communicate and collaborate and ultimately, to learn from each other, and while we’re no cutthroat Crimson or vicious Bulldog, a fair amount of arguably unhealthy competition is certainly sustained. We’re told that sleep is good, but really, we’re college students; half of our blood is coffee and the other half is Late Meal grease. We’re told that college is supposed to be the greatest experience of our lives when, in reality, it stresses us at every turn; that the friendships we make here will last for the rest of our lives, when in actuality the phrase “we should catch a meal sometime” has fast become the upperclass student equivalent of “hello.”
More personally, many of us face contradictions between what we wish we had done and what we actually did; between our goals and our dreams, our dreams and our actions, our actions and our outcomes. If you’re anything like me, even after four years, you’re still not fully sure what exactly you really want to do in life anyways.
And that’s okay – contradiction is inherent in growing up, in becoming adults. It’s implicit in learning, doing, and becoming all we are and all we ever will be.
I do shudder to use the term adults because as “adults”, we’re expected to refrain from the drunken revelries, the costumed bacchanals, and the general disarray with which many of us have conducted our lives during college. But maybe we’re not quite there yet. Despite the feeling that the upcoming events – graduation, baccalaureate, commencement, prom – all represent a momentous step in our lives, an absolute schism between our old life as carefree college students and our new life as stick-in-the-mud adults, maybe it’s not so clear-cut. Like the contradictions that have defined much of our time spent here, perhaps this is just another conflicting message that the University is sending our way – to tell us that while Princeton will always welcome us back, as of right now, we cannot stay. That we have gotten all we can get from the best old place of all, and that it’s time to move on. The things we learned, truly learned, will stay with us forever – lessons about the power of compassion and empathy and perseverance over hate and rancor; that the strength of the human spirit is indomitable; that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell; and that a little levity goes a long way. But also, we still have so much more to learn, so much more to do, so much more to become.
All it means is that this place, as much as any of us, is still figuring things out. And if a 300-year old institution can manage a little uncertainty and doubt, then so can we.
Jason Choe is an economics major from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Choe is an Opinion Editor emeritus for the Daily Princetonian.