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Growing up, everywhere: In photos, Princetonians share what mattered to them as kids

Introduction by Sandeep Mangat ’23

Bill Shapiro, former editor-in-chief of LIFE magazine, says that you die another death long after your physical one — “the moment the last remaining picture of you is seen for the final time.” This claim implies that there is a symbolic life after death, one that exists in photographs and is perpetuated by the words, feelings, and memories those images conjure. Though stories will be told of all of us by children, grandchildren, and others we somehow impacted, the right picture is able to accomplish something words can’t — it can preserve in it even the most fleeting thought or emotion forever.

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I was reminded of that just this week, as I was scrolling through pictures on my phone. Last year, my family decided that driving me to college was a better alternative than flying. We could make this necessary journey “a vacation” of sorts, they argued — though, in hindsight, I think we all just wanted to delay our goodbyes. So early one morning in late August, my parents, my twin brother, and I got into our pickup truck and started the 30-hour journey from Winnipeg to Princeton. We spent a few days in Chicago, toured New York, and stopped in all the little towns and municipalities along the way. We took hundreds of pictures of just as many places, but as I was sifting through my camera roll, I was struck by one of me standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection.

I’m blanketed in the lights of an oncoming car and the blur of my right hand tells me I’m fidgeting, wanting to get the photo taken so I can keep walking. There’s a sly, bordering on mischievous smirk on my face, and I don’t know who I’m looking at.

I’d forgotten the picture existed, but I very much remember the moment. My mom was behind the camera, and it was our second day in Chicago. We had just eaten dinner at a Shake Shack (no, we don’t have those in Winnipeg) and were coming from the city’s infamous Bean. My brother had protested going there, thinking it was a cliché, touristy site, but my mom had thought otherwise. We were walking to Navy Pier, where we’d on a whim get on a boat and be treated to fireworks over Lake Michigan.

I can remember exactly the spirited excitement I felt at the moment captured in the picture. It was still hours before we had to go back to the hotel and there was so much to do (I actually was in the middle of looking up directions to a nearby ice cream place). But beneath the surface, there was also the excitement of starting life abroad. I was three days away from moving into my dorm at Princeton, less than two weeks away from going camping in Connecticut with complete strangers, and almost three weeks away from starting my first college class.

It’s interesting that the picture above is the only physical record I have of those feelings. There were probably a hundred other moments that day, and even on that trip, when I felt the same excitement, but one chance instant in front of some traffic lights was tasked to forever hold what that time in my life represented.

And though memories are different — existing not as snapshots but as mental amalgamations of the thoughts, emotions, and sensory observations experienced at a given time — we view them in the same way we do pictures: in their isolation in the past. That’s why both old pictures and memories create in us a sense of nostalgia, the longing to go back, and rarely a recognition of what that longing says about our present.

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This project is about striking a balance. Here, Princetonians catalog what meant a lot to them as they were growing up and share what impact the memory of that significant place or person has in the present. Given the uncertainty of the time, I think we can all benefit from applying to it the guiding insight of memories from the past for which we yearn.

We asked students to submit a picture of a place or person that was significant to them as a child and share what the subject's memory continues to mean to them.

Abby de Riel ’22

Ricketts Glen, Pa.

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Even though we've distanced over time, having a twin brother has always meant having another soul travel with me through life. I think all the time about how those hiking trails were where I learned to discover, and how I miss so dearly those moments when we were connected and could see the spark of joy in each other's eyes. Trying to live under nature's guidance in the memory of the tenacious bond with my brother is what keeps me grounded.

Anne Wen ’22

Guam

“You are from Guam?!” In college, my fun fact is synonymous with my hometown name. Lifestyle on a tropical island is slow but beautiful. Residents welcome you with a bright smile on their face. Beaches are filled with locals and tourists, and the lifestyle teaches you to enjoy each moment. The island has and will always be a sheltered bubble; in some ways, Princeton’s Orange Bubble reminds me of Guam. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, we live at one with nature — forever ready to tread the waters and swim along the coral reef.

Carson Levit ’24

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe has always meant a lot to me. Growing up in San Francisco, I have always enjoyed my experiences in nature as a welcome break from the city lifestyle.  My favorite childhood memory from Tahoe was when my Dad took me skiing after a big snow storm and there was lots of powder. It was so much fun, and it was special to spend it with my Dad. Today, these experiences mean even more to me. As life only gets busier, I know I must cherish these moments as much as I can. 

Claire Wayner ’22

Sanibel, Fla.

Every March, my grandma would take my family to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, Fla. It was here where I cultivated my love for nature. From kayaking in mangroves to hunting down alligators on boardwalk trails, I was able to explore a biome entirely different from that of my Baltimore home. Sanibel made me who I am today, passionate about protecting the planet for wildlife and people. I hope that all kids get a chance like this, to spend quality time outdoors, whether that be in a local park or halfway across the country.

Emily Della Pietra ’23

Long Island, N.Y.

My grandpa gave me this panda, which I appropriately named Panda when I was born. I took him everywhere, including to my dorm at Princeton. I grew such a love for pandas that I started to collect them as a kid and quickly accumulated over 100. I don't ever remember a time when I didn't love pandas, and I don't think that time will ever come. One day I hope to meet one in real life in China.

Eric Tran ’22

San Diego, Calif.

My grandfather would pick me up from elementary school whenever my parents were busy, and when he took me back to his house, he would always show me how to find words in the dictionary and use it to expand my vocabulary. He was a learned man, and I never questioned how he became so knowledgeable. It wasn't until after his passing that my mother told me he studied abroad in America twice on scholarship. Nowadays, while prepping for the GRE, I wish he was still around to help me practice for the verbal reasoning portion of the exam.

Gaea Lawton ’23

My mailbox

This spot makes me think of the magenta cherry tree blooming in front of my house every April and the bright red maple leaves falling all around me in mid-October. I’d come here in the bitter cold of winter, just to look up at the stars piercing through the black sky. It would provide a break from the chaos indoors. It’s here that in mid-August, I can remember daydreaming about my future as the sun set. As far back as I can think, I have been coming to my mailbox when I am most in need of peace and tranquility. It has yet to fail me.

Howard Wang ’24

New York City, N.Y.

The 7 train was the backbone of my time in high school. I remember waiting at the Queensboro platform on the way home, just talking to buddies about anything, lugging a duffel bag after a game or after a window shopping in SoHo. It was always packed during rush hour, and we'd wait for the next express train because we couldn't be bothered to take the local. It was my one route into the city, and so many memorable conversations happened on a 7 train.

Imani Mulrain ’23

Trinidad and Tobago

This is a picture of my cousin, Amelia, and I on my first day of Standard (Grade) 2 at Moulton Hall in Port of Spain. My cousin and I have always been close, but hanging with her for the majority of the day made me feel like we were sisters. My favorite memory is being introduced to the love of my life: cheese pies. I always bought one with an Orchard for lunch until I started attending school in the United States full-time. While I don’t eat them that much anymore, I’ll never forget my past love for them. RIP.

Laura Robertson ’23

Cemetery Hill, Owego, N.Y.

This is the view from the cemetery outside my hometown. I have so many memories here from over the years: cross country practices, school field trips, even high school dates. But my standout memory is from 2011, when severe flooding swallowed my town. After a night in a shelter, we parked up here and then walked down the hill. The town came together to help aunts rip furnaces out of their basements, canoe elderly neighbors to dry land, and carefully carry wedding furniture upstairs. It’s that kind of unity that propels my love for home today.

Lillian Chen ’21

Houston, Texas

While my parents attended college in Austin, my waipo raised me in her hometown, Hangzhou. As a baby, I constantly got pneumonia. My waipo never told my parents, shouldering her worries alone. I only slept if she held me in a rocking chair. Her left wrist still aches 21 years later. My waipo taught me how to speak Chinese and a little English. She gifted me with tai chi and loud laughter. Last week, I accidentally called her on WeChat. We ended up talking for an afternoon. I confess how hard it is to be with parents who don't let me run outside. She used to be a professional athlete, so she completely understands my need for movement. My waipo lives alone since my grandfather passed away this January. Occasionally, my uncle and cousin will visit her. But when I imagine her eating leftovers without anyone to talk or laugh with, I wish I could leave here immediately and fly to her. Now that the weather is getting colder, I reminisce on the moments spent in her tiny kitchen — her taking the whole day to cook my favorite noodle soups, me wishing I could live with her forever.

Musab Almajnouni ’22

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Growing up in a small town, I was never good at directions, barely getting around my neighborhood. It wasn’t until my family moved to the capital that I started appreciating the history and science behind urban design. The first thing that sparks my curiosity when traveling is how a city’s people, lifestyle, and urban structure have shaped each other through the years. For me, I can always recall driving home at a late hour surrounded by nothing but my thoughts, the car radio, and the racing lights of buildings tall and small to give me the inspiration I need.

Rebecca Chelli ’22

The sky

One of my favorite memories as a kid was learning about the horizon: there is no real end. It’s amazing to think of this infinity — that the sky can’t be outrun. I think the more we grow up, the more we forget how to be amazed. Yet, when I tilt my head back, I can’t help but find shapes in these cotton candy clouds, wondering if the same shapes will appear in someone else’s backyard. I’m reminded each time I look up to cling to the pure feeling of wonder as a child looking at something much bigger than myself!

Trace Nuss ’23

Tampa, Fla.

I’ve loved history for as long as I can remember. “Liberty Kids” was my favorite television show. I couldn’t wait until I turned seven so I could attend Civil War Camp. I did. It was 1,200 miles away in Dinwoody County, Va., at the Pamplin Historical Park. I proudly enlisted as a Union soldier, steadfast in my beliefs. I convinced my father and grandfather to join me the following summer at an overnight history camp at Pamplin. Together we trudged across the tall grasses, retracing the steps of history. Dressed in woolen uniforms, eating stale hardtack and sipping warm water from dank canteens under the scorching sun with my father and grandfather provided me with one of my fondest childhood memories. Immersed in the piercing blackness of the steamy night, the buzzing sounds of the mosquitoes were interrupted by only my grandfather’s query: “Tell me again, please — why exactly did you choose to bring me here instead of Disney?” I resolved at that moment that I would provide my father and grandfather with the lessons they never learned. Historical and political debate remains lively at our dinner table, although the food is usually better than at the camp. The photo sitting on my desk inspires me to continue my historical explorations of the past to lead me in my future. My grandfather asked, “Why?” I'm certain many throughout history have asked the same.

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