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The quickest four years

Two months ago, on an unseasonably cold May night, I walked along Nassau Street with two friends from the Class of 2000. They had graduated earlier that day, and were now facing their last night at a school they had both grown to love. And neither of them was ready to leave.

They were worried about the future, about jobs and apartments and internships and graduate schools. But those were not the primary reasons they had gone about the tiresome process of packing clothes and turning in keys with a heavy sense of impending loss. There was something else fueling their desire to stay: Four years, they both said, had not been enough. Five years might have done the trick — six would have been nice. But four years had not even come close.


It's true. Four years is an awfully short time to take advantage of all that the world's finest undergraduate education has to offer. But that doesn't mean you can't try.

For one, take classes that are off the beaten academic path. No one leaves Princeton raving about his experience in ECO 101 or PSY 101. But a class on the history of pacifism or a seminar on contemporary Turkish politics could prove to be the most rewarding academic experience of your life.

Going to college is, of course, as much about activities and sports and roommates and friends as anything else. You will meet extraordinary people here, all of whom possess unique personalities and talents. But if there is anything that is disturbing about Princeton, it is the well-documented tendency for students to arrive here with impressive standardized test scores and to emerge four years later with standardized everything else — speech patterns, wardrobes, even life values.

So don't be afraid to absorb everything that Princeton has to offer while at the same time continuing to think for yourself. Don't assume that Bicker provides the only path to social acceptance or even that the 'Street' is the only place to pass a Saturday night. Don't pursue a summer internship at Goldman Sachs just because it seems as if everyone else you know is. Don't wear khakis and a baseball hat if it's not your style. Princeton will be a better place — and you will be a better person — if you take in the sea of extraordinary personalities that will surround you in classes, dorms and dining halls without giving up your own.

During orientation week, you will hear the phrase "Princeton in the nation's service" repeated by professors, administrators, classmates — everyone. The repetition serves a valuable point. At Princeton, you will have the best of everything — the best teachers, the best extracurricular opportunities, the best alumni resources — and with this privilege comes a solemn obligation: to draw from the Princeton experience as much as you can during four years, and then to go out into the real world and use what you have learned to improve and enhance the lives of others.


If all this seems overwhelming, then remember to do one more thing during your time at Princeton: Enjoy yourself. Find an activity that you love — rock-climbing, acting, frisbee, whatever catches your eye — and pour yourself into it. Eschew sleep to stay up all night talking to your roommates. Befriend people with whom you seem to have nothing in common. Four years may not be enough time to study with every famous professor or meet every member of your class, but it is more than enough time to make lifelong friends.

The morning after our walk on Nassau Street, my friends were off — parents and diplomas in tow — on a journey that all Princeton students know well: across Lake Carnegie on Washington Road, under a canopy of majestic elms and then on to Route 1, Princeton's thoroughfare to the rest of the world. Except this time, they were leaving for good.

Four years is all we get here, for better or for worse. The trick is to be able to drive down Washington Road the day after graduation wishing that number were five or six. — RICHARD JUST, 124th Editor-in-Chief

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