Your class is taking – and will take – unprecedented strides forward in many respects, as the first class to enroll more women than men, the class with the highest percentage of first-generation college students, at 16.9 percent, and the first class to enroll five military veterans.
So, as Princeton serves this nation, it serves humanity.
As our unofficial motto prescribes, Princeton is moving towards greater equality in opportunity, expanding those opportunities for everyone, and redefining ‘public service’ and what it means to serve. Now, it's your turn – as a part of our collective responsibility – to consider how you, too, will serve, not only your community here at Princeton, but humanity.
Looking back, as an incoming freshman, I certainly didn’t give Princeton’s motto a second thought (granted, the University motto was different then too). In fact, when I heard ‘service’ before arriving at Princeton, I thought of the local public library, hospital, or food bank. For many of us, service still triggers approaching deadlines or National Honor Society requirements. I didn’t consider the vast scope of ‘service’ until after I declared my major in the Woodrow Wilson School at the end of my sophomore year.
In retrospect, I wish I’d done things differently. I wish I would have, from the very start, chosen extracurriculars and classes that had a more meaningful service component and not have waited a year or two to pursue those opportunities. I wish I hadn't waited to take an urban studies/visual arts class that shed light on Trenton’s history with race, to co-lead a Breakout trip on refugee resettlement, to work with the Carl A. Fields Center to facilitate dialogues around identity and identity politics, to try to serve this community more fully through a growing, entirely student-run newspaper. I wish I could tell my freshman self (my “pre-frosh” self) to really think about what I could do to redefine and reengage with service beyond what I’d ever experienced or known.
But ‘service’ wasn’t the first thing on my mind as I anticipated my freshman year at Princeton, and it won’t necessarily be for many of you either. I get it. Still, I hope you will think about what shape your path to service might take, regardless of what major you’ll declare (or think you’ll declare). There is no one definition of ‘service,’ and your time at Princeton will, at the very least, make you cognizant of that. Some will commit to serving others through research and academia, like many of our faculty; others will serve in federal government or serve in the military, like many of our alumni; and many will organize around and protest injustice, like so many of our classmates.
Even as a Wilson School major, in a line of study that intuitively gives rise to the most traditional conception of ‘public service,’ I’ve seen classmates lose sight of what it means to engage in public service as we all branch out into different career paths, from nonprofits to investment banks. Especially as someone who chose this concentration to learn what it takes to engage in public service through government and diplomacy, I’ve realized how much we can take for granted the opportunities we have to serve others, based less on the classes and careers we seek out and more on those that we do not. We need to return to the roots of what it means to 'serve,' from serving communities through public housing and social welfare, to serving our country, through the ROTC program.
Where do you see yourself – this fall, next summer, in four years? As you look through course offerings, freshman and writing seminars, clubs and teams, seek out those opportunities to engage with the local community through Community-Based Learning Initiatives (CBLI) in classes, take a week-long service trip that tackles a particular issue with Breakout Princeton and Community Action (and Outdoor Action!) through the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, find that issue or cause you’re particularly passionate about at the Activities Fair in September. Challenge yourself to look at an issue you might not have been so aware of, be it undocumented immigration through the DREAM Team or climate change and sustainability through the GreenLeaders.
And of course, now more than ever, journalism is a public service – a public good – that, while under attack, remains a strong force for change. I hope this special issue can give you a glimpse at all the change and progress Tigers before you have engendered on and off campus, but also at how you can be a part of bringing these narratives forth with The Daily Princetonian, particularly those narratives that aren’t typically talked about, from communities that aren’t always fairly represented in the media.
These next few weeks (and years) will, no doubt, overwhelm you, but they will also excite and challenge you. And the biggest part of that challenge in this day and age is figuring out whether you want to live up to Princeton’s motto, and how you’re going to do it. But there’s a lot of progress that still needs to be made, and we’re all excited to see how you’ll be a part of that.
Welcome to Princeton, Class of 2021.
Sarah Sakha, a Woodrow Wilson School major from Phoenix, Arizona, is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Princetonian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.