As I poured myself some water at the reception for President Eisgruber’s installation, the clink of the ice cubes tumbling into my glass vaguely upset me in some unidentifiable way. It wasn’t until after I strode back to my friends on the lawn and saw identical glasses in their hands that I realized that what I’d felt was a sense of surprise: At an outdoor venue with a large number of people in attendance, I was used to plastic cups, not glass ones, and I was wholly unprepared to find myself drinking from the latter.
I’ve only spent a few weeks on campus as a freshman, but already there are times I catch myself wondering whether this is real-life or a movie set. The incident concerning the glass is just one occasion where the amount of luxury we enjoy at Princeton shatters normal university standards and then some. There has been free food once to twice a day since I moved into my dorm room; the U-Store has sections devoted to Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers; we place our full trash cans outside our doors at night and then, magically, they’re empty the next day; the “port-a-potty” I used at the Grace Potter and the Nocturnals show not only had flushing toilets and running water, but also was complemented by an automatic paper-towel dispenser. It’s all very Princeton.
But that’s exactly the crux of my initial experience here. Before I came, I knew the Princeton that pop culture and Hollywood portrayed: a school of genius and privilege, whose students wore sweaters draped across their shoulders and enjoyed life in the lap of luxury despite their difficult studies. However, I did not expect for this stereotype of wealth and indulgence to be true; it was too Princeton. I found it incompatible with the 21stcentury. Yet I realized, especially after witnessing us all in perfect Hollywood-prep for Lawnparties (if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our Lawnparties’ outfits are only half-joking), that preconceptions were not misconceptions. Even with Lawnparties over, I can’t help but notice that a conspicuous part of the student body’s wardrobe is made up of the exact outfits used to parody the school; the amount of salmon-colored shorts and pastel polos didn’t change all that much from pre- to post-event. Princeton embodies its own caricature.
I’m sure the situation is the same at other schools in the Ivy League with similarly large endowments, but I still find the pageantry with which every event is carried out almost comical. Not laughable, but amusing by the mere virtue of the fact that the real Princeton is so ironically un-ironic. Where one expects custom-built stages for administrative inaugurations or a street lined with student-owned mansions, one finds exactly that. I personally enjoy the roll-of-the-eyes my parents give me when I relay to them the latest Princeton-esque quirk I’ve discovered on campus, an eye-roll that says, "Of course Princeton would do that."
Despite perhaps appearing to the contrary, this is by no means a critical commentary. Instead, I am simply illustrating (and poking just a little bit of fun at) the goings-on on campus that I think some more seasoned Princetonians have become accustomed to and may take for granted. We are blessed to attend not only one of the premier research universities in the world, but also one that can accommodate its student body with such a broad array of amenities. I’ve already seen Princeton utilize its resources (namely its $17 billion endowment) to support and develop the abilities of its students in ways I never imagined possible at an undergraduate institution. And while it is true that Princeton could turn more of its attention away from campus, I believe that Princeton’s (and for that matter any higher learning institution’s) main focus should be its students. Princeton is furnished with an incredible financial-aid system, accomplished faculty and the most contemporary facilities and equipment available, all to provide the best to its students. If we get a few extra pats on the back than most universities students do in the process, I say so be it. Princeton does not aim to be just a college — it is an experience. Students learn from their friends and their extracurriculars just as much as they do from their professors, becoming well-rounded and productive citizens and thereby ensuring the reputation and longevity of the University for another generation.
At the end of the day, I think that most everything the University does is with its students in mind, even those things that make me question whether I’m really attending college or if I’m actually on the collegiate version of "The Truman Show." But I find I only ask myself this because I’m still unused to the amount of resources Princeton sets aside for its students, which I previously thought incompatible with a major research university’s priorities. Princeton has truly exceeded my expectations. The attention and benefits it grants to its students, down to the very last boat-shoed one, is amazing. And if that is what it means to be a quintessential Princetonian, then quite frankly, I’m proud to be one.
Mitchell Hammer is a freshman from Phoenix, Ariz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.