Seeing my father trying to convince little Kathleen Elizabeth Vanderkam (my brother's kid, born March 10, 1998) that she should follow his lead and study Hebrew when she goes to college started me thinking. After all, she would be Princeton Class of 2020. I wonder what it would be like . . .
Princeton, April 8, 2020: First of all, tuition for '20-'21 was announced at $75,000 per year, thanks to the restraint of the PriCom, which raised tuition at only twice the rate of inflation (held in check by good ol' Alan Greenspan, still at the Fed because no one wanted to get rid of him – old economists never die, they just have diminishing marginal returns).
The Dow topped 20,000, good for those with Microsoft stock (The New York Times, April 8, 2020: "Bill Gates buys Guam") and for the Princeton endowment. Despite other colleges' 20-percent growth, our's chugged along at a decent, respectable six-percent return.
And speaking of other things that were decent and respectable, thanks to global warming, there weren't any Nude Olympics after 2010. But that didn't stop Princeton's plucky sophomores. No, they filled Holder Courtyard with Cool Whip and frolicked around in that. Our grad students, tired of having their cameras confiscated over in Rocky every year, started their own nude tradition of running around Springdale Golf Course. Some even left their physics books at home. But no one came to watch.
Instead, people hung around the Frist Campus Center, or else the renovated Blair Hall whose bathrooms, due to a construction error, were accidentally moved from a remote corner of the basement to a remote exit off Route 1. But no matter, Tiger Tram still provided shuttle service there and to the newest student parking lot, Lot 33 in Newark.
After undergoing massive renovation in the late 1990's, Palmer stadium was again determined to be too large for the sparse attendance at Princeton's football games, so it was knocked down again and finally built with just enough room for president emeritus Shapiro and the quarterback's mother. Princeton then published stats claiming to have sold out every game.
They also published new stats on grade inflation, an issue that simmered from the late 1990s into the early part of the next century, ultimately leading to the resignation of Dean Nancy Malkiel. She was replaced by Dean David Ascher who, taking a break from his political career, ran academic life with the motto "Grade inflation? Not here!" Strangely, 100 percent of the Class of 2019 graduated summa cum laude. Ascher denied allegations of grade inflation. "No, it was just a really, REALLY good crop of kids," he told flabbergasted reporters.
Frick, however, was still undergoing an ambiguous yet ambitious renovation project started sometime during the Carter administration. This prompted grad students working late at night in the labs to report sightings of the "phantom electrician" who was supposedly on the University's payroll, yet rarely seen working.
This may be because electricity was ruled to be a fire hazard. After halogen lamps went, coffee makers were the next to go. Then there were the ordinances banning "walking across carpet too quickly while wearing socks."
Some things are just eternal, though. The eating club scene still sent freshmen and sophomores scurrying down Prospect Avenue. Some of the clubs were different – in a fit of evolution by natural selection, some died out and some combined to conserve scarce resources. One of the well-attended ones was QCCCDECT, the new mega club formed when people realized that the beer tastes about the same everywhere anyway. Of course, the costs of drunken debauchery became clear when every few years someone did something really dumb like latching onto the wing of an American Airlines jet or jumping on the roof of a Greyhound bus. Overall, though, everyone went merrily along, forgetting there was a legal drinking age or a world where not everyone had an IQ of 120+.
But despite the occasional reports of drunken Princeton students vomiting on BMWs parked in the Borough, after a 23-year reign atop the US News and World Report rankings, Princeton was clearly the best college in the world – a place where one could study hard and play hard too. As Dean Ascher handed Kathleen her diploma, she looked at Nassau Hall, standing since the Revolution, at the sloping greens, the beautiful Gothic buildings and realized that despite some annoyances, time only makes this place better.