First-year students experienced the full array of first-year traditions on Sunday, as they participated in opening exercises, the Pre-Rade, a barbecue, and the annual “step sing” to kick off their first year at the University.
Opening exercises, an annual event, marks the beginning of first-years’ academic careers. The ceremony is held in the University chapel on the Sunday prior to the first day of classes. Every year, the University president delivers an address to the incoming class, community members share hymns and prayers, and undergraduate prizes are awarded to students for their academic achievement.
President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 began the ceremony by reflecting on the history of the opening-exercises tradition, which dates back to 1802. Eisgruber mentioned that while the original ceremony was strictly Christian, it has since come to represent and include members of many faiths and “ethical traditions.”
“I ask you to join me in reflecting on how fortunate we are to be on a campus of this kind, a campus that values the fearless pursuit of truth, cherishes the importance of service, and celebrates the dazzling diversity of identities, cultures, faiths, and backgrounds that forge the rich tapestry of our community,” Eisgruber said.
In his speech, Eisgruber suggested that those present regard the ceremony as an occasion to reflect upon the “mission” of the University. He referenced the life and work of renowned author Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, who recently passed away.
Eisgruber focused specifically on Morrison’s call for dissent, interpreting Morrison’s words as a call to interact with many different and contradictory viewpoints and to “interrogate and challenge our own orthodoxies.”
“If we genuinely prize conscience over orthodoxy, we must not only tolerate but welcome reasoned arguments that challenge our own cherished opinions and viewpoints,” Eisgruber said. “We must have the courage to state opinions even when they are unpopular in our own community. We must have the integrity to respect those who offer opinions that are unpopular with us.”
The ceremony included songs, readings, and prayers from a variety of faiths.
The ceremony also featured the presentation of several academic awards. Dean of the College Jill Dolan awarded the Freshman First Honor Prize to Kiril Bangachev ’22, the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize to Mary Devellis ’21 and Yechen Hu ’21, the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize to Audrey Cheng ’20 and Eitan Levin ’20, and the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award to Nicholas Johnson ’20 and Grace Sommers ’20.
Opening exercises were followed by the Pre-Rade, in which the incoming class paraded through FitzRandolph Gate.
First-years indicated that although they enjoyed many of the day’s festivities, the rush of going from one event to another fatigued them.
“It was long and I’m tired,” said Lance Yoder ’23. “But I’m excited, and ready to start my Princeton journey.”
Other first-years interviewed by The Daily Princetonian felt excited, if not overwhelmed by the scale of the day’s festivities.
“I mean, everybody kind of jokes that Princeton is like a cult, and you fully see that there. They’re all decked out, fully welcoming you,” said Ben Burns ’23. “It just shows how much everybody loves this place. It makes you feel really good.”