Princeton students are infamous for meticulously structured free time — get coffee with Amanda 10–10:30 p.m., call a friend from home 4–4:15 p.m., hang out in Carly’s room 9–9:50 p.m. With demanding schedules as well as academic, extracurricular, and career pressures, students often feel anxious about wasted time or un-optimized schedules. But in the first few days on campus before our workload escalated, we let ourselves reunite with friends and settle in slowly. Without a routine, we let our days fill up — or not — without the commanding Google Calendar notifications dictating our every minute. And we need to do this more often. Princeton students need to let themselves be spontaneous.
For many of us, our summer offered a healthy balance of productivity and relaxation. But within the first few days of school I was flooded with the familiar campus sensation: Whenever I find a moment to catch my breath, I feel immediate pressure to fill the time productively. At the New Year, I wrote my resolution on a poster in our dorm room: “stay late.” My reputation for a horrendously erratic sleep schedule preceded me, and my roommates almost crossed out my goal, replacing it with “stay up no later.” But “stay up” is a lifestyle I wish I had adopted from my first steps on campus.
We spend four years on campus, and while some call it a bubble, it is also a haven. You’re a six minute walk from some of the most important people in your life. You have the luxury of being selfish with few people or tasks truly dependent on you. You’re surrounded by the communities you’ve built yourself and those that have taken you in. Staying up means appreciating and taking advantage of all the Princeton that happens when you look up from your studies. Staying up means using free moments as gifts to be used as you want in that moment not as extra time needed to be filled some with other tasks.
Every great night in college is an accident. And maybe every night in life is the same way, but I won't presume to know that, at least not yet. When you shotgun a Red Bull with your COS group at 4 a.m. in Sherrerd Hall. When you wonder the limits of freedom of speech and stay up with your roommates to never find an answer. When you're headed to bed and get a better invitation: two roommates headed to the movie of the week. Take it. Train yourself to untrain all the discipline and rationality that got you here.
You'll never make it to sunrise on purpose. You'll make it to sunrise because you’re in pajamas on a Monday night but your friend came down the hall from Foulke Hall and needed advice, and chocolate, and you had both and then suddenly it’s light outside. Your friends (who know no bedtime) will come over after Shabbat dinner, and you can fake sleep or you can get out of bed and entertain the clockless. You’ll stay up at reunions, not wanting to leave the seniors, and the night will leave first.
The big nights will never be the big memories. Dean’s Date won’t be worth the exam hangover. The club will go member’s only before you get there on Princetoween. And some frosh weeks you won’t make it out of Carly’s single because you arrived on campus and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Sometimes you’re going toward Firestone but your friends need a fourth player in Spikeball — stay in Henry Courtyard. If you stop in the quad down the hall on the way to the library, you might as well stay and binge watch “Game of Thrones.” And if your day is then shot, you may as well let it be. Carson’s 21st won’t be great until you leave Prospect and alcohol and crowds and run through Robertson Fountain. Your meticulously planned perfect first legal drink may be thwarted by an under-construction Triumph Brewery, so just let it be replaced by a first Hoagie Haven sandwich instead.
I promise you study enough. I promise you work hard enough. I promise you deserve more breaks than you would ever give yourself. Stay late. End up wherever the day takes you. Make plans if and only if you are willing to break them.
Jessica Nyquist is a senior concentrator in computer science from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.