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Living in parallel

When he walked out on stage, I could hardly have missed him. How could I, when he’s six-foot-six? But moreso because a feeling of incongruence immediately came over me. Standing on stage in a tailcoat, white bowtie and borrowed vintage Yale snapback was one of my best friends from high school, now a member of the Yale Glee Club.

The moment they walked onto the stage, my mind was in a strange way thrown into trying to rationalize an inherent contradiction. Why someone who I was so used to seeing in my high school auditorium and refectory would now find himself in Richardson or in Whitman. In that blending of two distinct worlds, two separate chapters of our lives, there was something inherently unsettling. No one else from my high school grade had come to Princeton. In coming here, part of my social psychology was therefore that I had to make a whole new set of friends, and I wouldn’t have the crutch of knowing people from my high school. I text and stay in touch with my friends from home, but on some level I was compartmentalizing. Home friends existed in a world totally separate from the one of midterms and eating clubs and writing columns for the 'Prince' really late at night.


This is not to say that I don’t miss seeing those friends on a daily basis, going through the same classes and tests and rehearsals and practices and in essence having our lives move in parallel. Having a high school grade of 51, where most people had the same few classes, the same few teachers and participated in the same few clubs made us an incredibly close group of people. Whenever you bombed a test, you could commiserate with basically anyone in the grade, because they had just taken it too. And when you had some inside joke or quirk from a class, you could share it with anyone because they’d know exactly the people and situations you were describing.

College, by contrast, can seem isolating. In a small high school, everyone isfighting the same battles and enjoying the same successes. Even at a job, though the motivations may be different, the people in an office can on some level share in this. But in college, because not everyone has the same parallel goals, struggles and accomplishments, perhaps you identify less harmoniously with your friends. You can empathize with their problems and accomplishments less closely. Charlotte Chun brought up this argument in a column a few weeks ago:The individuality that comes with college can be lonely.

On some level, this is true. Friends are made in college through the shared environment of all living within a few minutes’ walk of each other and the social benefits of all being on campus. And while you can’t directly identify with the work they’re up late doing, when you’re both in the library at some ungodly hour just trying to get it done, you do empathize with each other. But some part of me does long to return to an environment where every single person is working in concert to a parallel end.In the formative years of middle and high school, I believe this close group ethic is exactly the right one, providing a sense of camaraderie that shows you that you aren’t the only one struggling and that you are in a place where you are known and understood.

However, applied to college, that strategy wouldn’t work. If college is supposed to be the ultimate preparation for the "real world," then it is good that not everyone you know has exactly the same problems and experiences as you. Having your own struggles and a group less in tune with each others’ problems forces you to grow. It allows for everyone, furthermore, to explore new paths that they choose to, instead of following a set standard course. You can follow your passions more easily if you accept that not everyone will share them. You will never feel like a parallel version of another person here. The individuality and independence that comes with college, while often isolating, is also a good thing. It’s a trade-off for more liberty to explore and grow as an academic and as a person.

Ryan Dukeman is a freshman from Westwood, Mass. He can be reached at