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8 students win Spirit of Princeton award

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Eight students were selected as the winners of the Spirit of Princeton award, according to Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne. Seven winners are seniors and one is a junior.

Briana Christophers '17, Colin Lualdi '17, David Mazumder '17, Durva Trivedi '17, Hillel Friedman '17, Hajrah Hussain '17, Matt Błażejewski '17, and Jackson Forbes '18 were chosen as the award recipients this year.

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The award was first given in 1995, and it is awarded to students who have made contributions to the University through “the arts, community service, students organizations, residential living, religious life and athletic endeavors.”

The winners of the award will receive a certificate and a book prize, and will be honored at a dinner in the beginning of May.

Nominations, which served as the primary criteria for consideration, are evaluated by a committee comprised of administrators and undergraduate students who review the nominations and select the winners. Any undergraduate student can be nominated or contribute to a nomination for the award. Nominations were due on April 10.

Trivedi, from Johns Creek, Ga., is majoring in the Wilson School with a certificate in South Asian studies. She is an RCA in Mathey College and has served as the co-president of Princeton Hindu Satsangam, a Hindu community group on campus. She has also worked for TigerCall, an outreach program of the Office of Annual Giving, and wrote for the ‘Prince,’ among other activities.

Trivedi recalled receiving a general email asking seniors to nominate other students for the Spirit of Princeton Award, but didn’t know that she was nominated or had won until the winners received an email on April 20, last Thursday.

“I know quite a few of the other seniors who won the award, and I really look up to them,” Trivedi said. “To be honored along with them is really great.”

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Trivedi added that the communities she’s been a part of at the University — from her zee group to Tower Club — have given her opportunities to get to know different people. She recalled meeting a University alumnus at reunions who was at his 69th consecutive P-rade. The two struck up a long conversation about their experiences at the University and their shared South Asian background.

“Probably the most defining moments have been where I’ve gotten a chance to engage in conversations with people,” Trivedi said.

Trivedi is interested in international development, gender equality and communication, and public service. Next year, she will be working at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City.

Hussain, an English major from Jersey City, N.J., is also pursuing certificates in the Global Health Program and Linguistics.

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She is a Peer Health Advisor for Forbes College, a Connecting Matters Fellow for the mental health arm of UMatter, and the community service chair of the Muslim Students Association. She has also worked as a research assistant in the sociology department studying access to mental health care.

Hussain has received a fellowship through the Global Health Corps to work at a nonprofit in Newark focused on integrating health care. She is interested in medical school or obtaining a masters in public health.

Hussain said that she was surprised to receive the award because her involvement with mental health has often focused on what the University can do better.

“I’ve often looked at where we need more improvement,” Hussain said. “I’ve thought about what I can do as a member of the community to make those changes.”

Hussain said that, to her, the “spirit of Princeton” is about hard work and perseverance.

“A lot of times at Princeton we think of [perseverance] as purely academic,” she noted. “My understanding of the spirit of Princeton is more about community work, taking a step back from academics and thinking about your peers, and looking out for those around you.”

Hussain added that she was grateful the University has allowed her to explore her disparate interests and be a part of many different niches on campus.

“Princeton gives you so many opportunities for you to do a bunch of different things and to engage in many different spheres of life,” she said.

Friedman is a Philosophy concentrator from Lawrence, New York. He is earning a certificate in the newly established Program in Music Theatre, and was president of Triangle Club. Friedman is an RCA in Butler College, an Orange Key tour guide, and a member of the Glee Club. He served as president of the campus branch of Chabad, music director of the Jewish a capella group Koleinu, and a member of both the Priorities Committee for the University and a committee on RCA training.

Friedman said that although a close friend had told him that she wanted to nominate him, he didn’t know who had actually nominated him or what the process was like.

“[The other winners] are all people who’ve done extraordinary things on this campus, and I feel lucky to be in their company,” he added. “It also feels nice as you’re graduating to be recognized for some of the ways you’ve contributed to campus life.”

Friedman, who entered the University as a pre-med student, said that his experiences doing theater in Triangle greatly impacted him and helped him realize two of his greatest passions — musical theater and religious life.

“I discovered what truly makes me excited and what gives me a lot of meaning,” he said. “With or without this recognition, these are all things that filled me with so much joy and happiness.”

Mazumder, from Basking Ridge, N.J., is a Molecular Biology major with certificates in Neuroscience, Classics, and Quantitative & Computational Biology. On campus, he’s a member of the Katzenjammers a cappella group, the University Glee Club, the Chamber Choir, and the Princeton Pianists Ensemble. He is also an RCA in Wilson, works with UMatter, and serves on the Alcohol Initiative Board, a student-run agency that administers funding to student groups to host events without alcohol.

Mazumder said that he and a few friends nominated each other for the award, and that a few of his zees from last year told him that they had nominated him after the winners had been announced.

The award is an acknowledgment of the impact that the groups he has been a part of have had on campus, Mazumder added.

“It’s a validation that that work is really important and improves campus life,” he said.

Mazumder emphasized the sense of community that he feels at the University, in both his academics and his activities on campus.

“Princeton academics are hard, and often that’s very challenging, but it can also bring people together,” he said, adding that he has made some of his closest friends through the Integrated Science Curriculum, an intensive one-year combined science program.

“The musical community and performing arts community in general at Princeton is just incredible,” he added “It’s a really, really great scene and people are very supportive with that.”

Mazumder also noted that the RCA community at the University is unique in how much guidance and community support it fosters.

“They’re really building a community that you feel over the course of freshman year, that maybe you don’t find at other places,” he said.

Next year, Mazumder will be entering a combined M.D./Ph.D. program at Harvard.

Christophers, from Miami, Fl., is also a Molecular Biology major and has been heavily involved with diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus. She served as the co-president of Princeton Latinos y Amigos, has worked with the Carl A. Fields Center for Diversity and Understanding, and has served on committees regarding diversity and inclusion.

“A large part of my time her has been about trying to make Princeton a better place for minorities or students of color,” she said.

Christophers said that she was shocked when she received the award. She forwarded the email to her parents, who were extremely excited.

“It’s nice to be recognized for the hard work I’ve put in while at Princeton,” Christophers said.

Christophers emphasized the importance of changing traditions to fit the current day.

“My aim in getting involved was the fact that, although Princeton is a great and wonderful place, it’s not necessarily great in every way and for every student,” she said. “A lot of my work on campus was about trying to make Princeton better for individuals.”

Lualdi, from Weston, Mass., is a physics major earning certificates in Computer Science and Linguistics. The University's only Deaf student, he founded the Princeton University American Sign Language Club, which hosts weekly ASL tables in the Whitman dining hall, sponsors events, advocates for ASL instruction at the University, and connects students and alumni who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Lualdi is also involved with entrepreneurship through the Keller Center eLab, where he works on a startup called SignSchool, an online ASL learning program, which he co-founded with two other students who graduated last year. He also rock climbs.

Lualdi said that he was thrilled and awed to receive the Spirit of Princeton award, and felt honored that the University recognized his contributions to the community as a Deaf student. Through his activities and attitude, he has hoped to contribute to a greater understanding of Deaf culture and Deaf individuals.

“In a sense I also feel fulfillment; many of my activities on campus are rooted in the basic desires of giving back to the Princeton community after it has done so much to make my undergraduate years so incredibly positive, and to offer a window into the Deaf world and its language,” Lualdi said in an email. “So in receiving this award, I feel honored that the University believes I have made positive contributions shaping the Princeton community for future generations of students.”

Lualdi emphasized how significantly the University community has impacted him, adding that the people he has met and befriended throughout his time at the University have significantly impacted him, and that his friends have shaped and inspired him.

Next year, Lualdi will begin a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Forbes, an Architecture major from Plano, Tex., is the only junior to win the Spirit of Princeton award. Besides playing on the varsity basketball team, he serves on the VSAT committee, is involved with the Scholars Institute Fellows Program, and just completed his term as an associate director for student agencies. He also served on the faculty-administration board FACA.

Forbes is interested in entrepreneurship and has launched a clothing brand which was featured in the Fashion Speaks show on campus.

“I believe that my coach, Mitch Henderson ['98] recommended me,” Forbes said. “He asked me a couple of questions about what I was doing on campus and that’s all I knew at the time.”

Forbes added that he was surprised and humbled to receive the award.

“I was just trying to stay involved with campus,” Forbes said. “It’s nice to know that people recognize what I’ve done.”

The people and communities on campus have also helped to shape him, Forbes added.

“It’s really just the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve built serving in different roles and coming across so many different people, whether it’s faculty, administrators, undergraduates, graduates, or alumni,” Forbes said. “[The University] really feels like a big family,” he added.

Błażejewski, from Trenton, N.J., is an East Asian Studies major earning a certificate in Translation and Intercultural Communication. He has participated in seven theater performances on campus and served as the publicity director for Theater Intime. He also directed the April 2016 Theater Intime show “Harvey” and twice directed the “Me Too Monologues,” performances of anonymous student submissions about their experiences with mental health.

Błażejewski is also an RCA and Peer Chinese Language Tutor for Mathey College, volunteered with Petey Greene and Outdoor Action, and has served on the Princeton Perspective Project and Mental Health Initiative Board, both of which are USG committees, along with the Ad-Hoc Committee to the Trustees to recommend a marker of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. He works in Firestone Library and co-hosts weekly Chinese language tables in Mathey dining hall. He also sings with VTone, an East Asian a capella group.

Next year, Błażejewski will participate in a fellowship with Princeton in Asia in Hangzhou, China, mentoring middle school students and helping students with the college application process. He’s interested in attending graduate school and eventually pursuing a degree in higher education administration.

Błażejewski said that the people he’s met at the University have defined his experience.

“If I meet someone, I feel that there’s always common ground, I just have to find it,” Błażejewski said. “Whenever I’m with someone, even if we talk for a while I always get the feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface.”

Błażejewski said he’s grateful for the feeling of camaraderie on campus.

“It’s just been great to see how people rely on each other for support,” Błażejewski said. “And I feel that I’ve found a strong group of friends who are very supportive.”

Błażejewski also emphasized his experience this year as an RCA in Edwards, where he has lived for all four years at the University. He described a night when he and his zees stayed up talking until six in the morning.

“That’s one of the things I love most about Princeton, just the talking and informal conversations,” he said.

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