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Whither the break?

I was born and raised in Colorado, a state best known (until it legalized marijuana) for its natural beauty and outdoors culture. But the high elevation which is the epitome of my home state’s beauty is its limitation: the Rocky Mountains’ fall hues are limited to conifer green and aspen gold, missing the rich and warm reds and oranges of their lower, eastern cousins. Arriving at Princeton, I had heard of and seen pictures of New England’s changing foliage, but my only voyages east of the Mississippi had been in spring and summer, so my freshman fall here was my first real exposure to this new palette. The trees on Goheen Walk seemed to join a chromatic chorus with the orange of my wardrobe and the orange chairs and pillars in Icahn as if to say, “Here is the new color scheme of your new life.”

I still enjoy these transient colors three years later, though I know now they announce the specter of gray, icy winters and, this year, time’s swift rush toward my graduation. But the advent of fall also corresponds with that worldlier specter, midterms — and the corresponding pull indoors, to libraries and computer labs. Notwithstanding jokes comparing falling leaves to falling GPAs or poetic souls proposing that the ravens (why are there so many ravens?) gather to feast on our dying dreams, the stress of midterms can only withdraw us from our beautiful setting and decrease the benefits we derive from it. Unless, that is, we explicitly act to prevent this. We need a break. So it’s a good thing we’re starting one tomorrow!


My senior fall has been wonderfully, horribly busy, which is just what I needed to regain my footing at the University after a term abroad. But when you add the looming job search and thesis work to the traditional load of classes and extracurriculars, the world quickly shrinks down to immediate concerns, and it gets harder and harder to look up. The fall colors serve as a reminder to linger. So do late-night discussions with friends, probing mysteries of the world no class can qualify us to address. And I am reminded, too, by Sunday night mass with the Episcopal Church at Princeton — which I attend not for any faith in the God of Israel or loyalty to the Christian faith of my childhood, but because the incense and stained glass and hymns allow me, force me, to take a step backward and remember where I am.

My journalism professor, a visiting professor who commutes down from New York, observed early this fall a peculiarity of the University: for all our beautiful outdoor architecture and scenery, the gothic courtyards and vibrant gardens, students are loathe to spend time outside, not studying but living. This is consistent with the sense that I get of our lifestyle compared to other campuses I’ve visited, but it was nonetheless jarring to have this confirmed by an outside observer. Perhaps this phenomenon is related to another peculiarity of Princeton students she noticed when we turned in our first assignments: the paper’s minimum length was 1,500 words, with a target of 2,000, so of course everyone in the seminar wrote 3,000.

The vernacular, exasperated reply to such overexertion is “do less.” But as fall break begins, perhaps the proper reaction is “do more.” Do more than just work. Do more this break than just your commitments — do something for yourself. Not hedonism, but something that will help you remember who you are, now, not what you’re trying to be when you graduate. Fall break at Princeton was conceived of as an opportunity for protest and political involvement in the run-up to election day, an act which put numerous University decision-makers on Nixon’s enemies list. In that spirit, I hope we can do something that reminds us of our place in the world beyond the Bubble. A project. A passion. A protest. I’m dropping everything to go camping.

Yes, these four years are an investment in our future, but if I’ve learned anything from my adventures and misadventures, it’s that it’s an investment in our whole selves — not just as a bundle of skills and knowledge, but as people. It’s unsurprising, then, that many of my fondest memories of these four years will be the beauty of the places to which Princeton has brought me: biking from village to village through the mountain-rimmed bounty of Bohemian farmland on my International Internship Program, sleeping next to chuckling creeks year after year on Outdoor Action, tramping through England’s pleasant pastures while studying abroad, watching the sun set over Pacific waves when the Princeton University Band followed the football team to San Diego, Calif. Perhaps these moments won’t be the most important in terms of getting me where I’m going, but they’re critical parts of who I am.

Bennett McIntosh is a chemistry major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at