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Class divisions

AaronAppelbaum_FORPRINT
AaronAppelbaum_FORPRINT

The senior class council wisely saved up its social funds for a series of events called “Pub Nights.” The point of these evenings is to rent out a bar such that it exclusively serves the Princeton senior class, so that anyone from the class can participate. The recent event at Triumph Brewing Company was remarkably enjoyable given the social nature of the affair and the unlimited and free nature of the beer. One aspect stuck out in particular, though. There are so many students in the Class of 2014 I had never met before. There were many students whom I had never even seen before. I am into my fourth year at this institution, and I still hadn’t met a notable quantity of my comrades.

At Princeton the likelihood that any given student is interesting and engaging is very high, and the likelihood that they can teach you something new is even higher. It dawned on me that I had a real fear growing inside of me: that I would graduate from Princeton and never meet all of these potentially wonderful and engaging people. And of course that fate is inevitable. I understand that one cannot know, or even meet, 1,200 some-odd students, no matter how socially ubiquitous one is. However, I figured it ought to become a priority of mine to try.

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After realizing how many of 2014-ers I had yet to meet, I recognized that there are four such classes on this campus at every given moment. Naturally I know fewer and fewer students from each of the respective younger classes, knowing hardly a handful of freshmen. I know my class to be composed of smart, engaging and diverse people; surely every other grade mirrors this reality. My fear grew. I would leave Princeton knowing such a small minority of such a talented campus. But what scared me was not that I wouldn’t meet everyone (that is silly), but more so that I wouldn’t meet much of anyone. What mechanism is in place for seniors to meet and befriend freshmen (and the other grades as well)? The entire student body shares nights out on the Street, but in my experience that is not the place to build new and diverse friendships.

There are a few outlets for older students to befriend younger ones. All activity clubs recruit freshmen into their ranks. Eating clubs will welcome in new hoards of sophomores in the spring, and classes are usually not segregated by year. All of these outlets, however, are limited. A music group will increase its membership only by a few lucky souls, and eating clubs, while creating some interaction between upperclassmen and underclassmen, do so only for a limited number of students.

If I have learned anything from attending Princeton Reunions, it is that class year is arbitrary, and the intergenerational comingling of Tigers is part of the institution's very fabric. Current students get to meet alumni; young alumni get to meet the older ones. The four-year gap that separated the veteran seniors from the rookie freshmen just about dissolves upon graduation. As four becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of our total life lived, the time difference matters less and less. It is of course true that most seniors are in many ways more mature, savvy and comfortable than most freshmen, and friendships between the two camps are not the most natural thing. But Princeton students learn quickly, and frosh soon grow into themselves and so are increasingly worth getting to know (as they are even in their yet underdeveloped forms).

The increased interaction between freshmen and seniors can be mutually beneficial beyond the fact that more people will meet each other. Freshmen can learn from the experiences of the seniors and avoid more potential pitfalls, and the seniors can be reminded of the eagerness and simple joy of attending Princeton. I am not advocating for a formal mentoring program, just the ability for people of different ages to learn from each other in an organic and friendly way.

There ought to be a way for the University to increase the senior-to-freshman (read: underclassmen) interaction. The University does provide upperclassmen with two dining hall meals a week, but these are either not spent or used to dine in the company of other upperclassmen. The younger generation should not bear the burden of introducing themselves — that is understandably daunting.

I believe the residential college system is the way to facilitate the mingling of upper and lower classes. Every upperclassman has belonged to one, and most people have an affinity toward their college and perhaps some spillover affinity for the new people in it. I would have called a senior-freshman event hosted by Wilson silly, that is, before recognizing what a tragic loss it would be to graduate from Princeton and not know such a vast number of its young talented students and potential lifelong friends.

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Aaron Applbaum is a Wilson School major from Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at applbaum@princeton.edu.

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