I joined the Army directly out of high school. I spent four years as a medic, including a deployment to Afghanistan. Afterwards, I attended two different community colleges and graduated with an associate degree.
I can confidently say, though, that my time at Princeton has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life so far.
Just like boot camp, this semester has been slowly tearing me down until I feel like I have nothing left to give. In fact, I think I’ve seen more people cry at Princeton than I did in the Army. Most people around me are worrying about their GPA, rushing to meet their deadlines, or trying to figure out what comes next after graduation. While I’d be lying if I said those issues didn’t cross my mind, some of my main worries have had nothing to do with Princeton.
Last year, on Sept. 12, my wife and I welcomed our first daughter, Adeline, into this world. We decided her middle name would be Ivy, since “Born on the First Day of Classes” seemed a little too on the nose. From her learning to roll to the first time she looked at me and smiled, each day has allowed me to experience something new with my daughter. It’s also taught me to cherish every moment as it comes. While I’m not suggesting everyone should go out and get themselves a baby, regardless of how fun I think campus would become, becoming a father has made me believe that we all need to live in the present more.
Before having a daughter, I always wanted time to fly by. I wanted my time in the Army to be over, and — when I started community college — I wanted to have my degree in hand after my first day of classes. Once Adeline was born, I started looking at life differently. I no longer want what’s next as fast as possible. I’m perfectly content with what’s in front of me. It’s also made me realize how much I’ve rushed through to get to this point.
I regret not enjoying my experiences in the military more. I wish I had spent more time with the people around me at my previous colleges instead of being so focused on getting to the next best thing. Planning for the future is great — disregarding the present isn’t.
My experience with Adeline has shown me how to stop and appreciate the everyday things that I didn’t before. One of my favorite quotes from The Office is “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” It took having a daughter to fully understand that quote. I now know that every minute I get with her is a memory I’ll look back on. Likewise, I try to appreciate the everyday moments I have at Princeton.
There is always another obstacle to overcome, another ladder to climb, and another hurdle to jump. Through spending time with my daughter, I’ve learned the importance of taking a break from the Princeton gauntlet every now and then. I won’t remember what grade I got on my COS 226 midterm five years from now. Instead I’ll remember the late-night conversations I’ve had with other students. I’ll remember getting out of bed at a ridiculous hour to see a friend’s band play. And I’ll remember the times I stopped studying and paid attention to everything else Princeton had to offer. Just like my moments with Adeline, I’ll try to savor every minute of Princeton that I can, so I don’t regret the missed opportunities later.
I’ll have lived almost three decades of life when I graduate from Princeton. Addie will be four, running all over campus with me trying to keep up. I won’t dwell on my grades or lament over my missed internships. Instead, I’ll think of her first words and the place she took her first steps. Here’s a little fatherly advice, which my five months of fatherhood have totally qualified me to give: take time to turn as many moments into memories as you can, while you can. Your future self will appreciate it.
Thomas Johnson is a first-year computer science major from Satellite Beach, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.