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In memory of my courtyard's photography

“If I’m not happy, they don’t get to be,” one of my roommates said (only partly joking). “They” strut around in poofy gowns, slick tuxedos, sparkling tiaras, luxurious veils, and with photographers trailing close behind. I caught my roommate, sleep-deprived during midterms, muttering this once as she stared outside our window at a couple grinning aggressively for the camera. 

Whether it’s for a quinceañera, birthday party, or wedding, the courtyard I live in — specifically the doorway to my hall — is apparently the spot for capturing life’s most cheerful moments. Another one of my roommates, an international student, said, “Seeing all these families and friends celebrating together every single day, right outside, always makes me feel so homesick.” 


I patted my roommates’ shoulders reassuringly. A few weeks later, they’d both be wishing for the return of these absurdly happy people from all around the world (one couple whom we talked to said they traveled from Hong Kong, and another from London). 

A sign was put up in our courtyard recently: “Event photography is prohibited in all residential college areas, including interior courtyards in residential colleges.” And, most excitingly for me and my quadmates, four bullet points down it says, “For everyone’s safety, photo parties may not block archways or doorways.” Read: freedom to enter and exit our dorm as we please. 

It could get annoying sometimes — like when you need to grab something for class, which starts in two minutes, but there’s a wedding party outside your doorway, so instead you have to squeeze through many meticulously-posed bodies, showering them with “sorrys” and “congrats!!” and “you all look sooo amazing!!” and then a few more “sorrys.” Or, even worse, like when they instruct you, resident of the area that they’re blocking, to “wait for 10 more minutes” until they finish. 

It could also be creepy sometimes — like when you’re walking along, minding your own business, and a group of tourists suddenly ask “Do you live here? Can you take a photo?” but, as you adjust the iPhone in your hand, ready to take a photo of them, they put their arms around you, expecting that you — a “real life Princeton student” — will be in it too.

While it’s definitely a relief, and probably for the best, regardless, I think I might actually miss them. And I’ll miss two things in particular about all the quinceañera, birthday, and wedding photography. First, in the midst of being caught up in my own stress, running into someone else’s happiness, oftentimes literally (these photoshoots do involve a lot of equipment), would simply remind me to smile. You might have just failed a test, but, look, someone else just turned 16 and is wearing a neon yellow gown! 

Secondly, seeing people in awe of everything — whether it’s the orange and red leaves in the fall, or the looming Gothic architecture — and choosing our campus to be included in photos that could potentially sit on their mantelpieces forever, was always a great reminder to avoid normalizing this campus’ beauty. Because, living here, it can so quickly become, as my friend Leonella Serrano ‘22 said, “just another state-of-the-art cathedral, you know?” 


Who knows though, maybe it’s too soon to say goodbye — that sign in my courtyard is pretty small. Plus, we already caught one wedding party sneaking into our courtyard yesterday. 

Priya Vulchi is a first-year from Princeton, New Jersey. She can be reached at 

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