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What is ‘Princeton’ without Princeton?

Without the beautiful gothic architecture, the lecture spaces, eating clubs, the athletes on motorized scooters zipping down Washington St., what is campus? Without running into people at meals or in class or at the Street late at night, what is student life? Without the campus and the friends, and all the connection that comes with the physicality of it, what is Princeton?

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When people ask me about how I feel now that my senior year is entirely virtual, I’ve so far been stubbornly optimistic. I want to have the best and safest senior year possible. I want to enjoy the day-to-day experience, even when the pandemic continues to leave so many questions about the present and future unanswered.


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Thinking about virtual school as a stripped-down version of Princeton, it makes me wonder what Princeton is at its core. To me, when I thought about having the best senior year possible, pre-pandemic, I thought about staying up late with friends, embracing spontaneity, checking off classes I’ve always wanted to take, and just reveling in the last year of my time as an undergraduate before everyone goes onto the next part of their lives. I may be stubbornly optimistic, but I hope that these are still possible virtually.


I am excited for the small things that next semester may bring, like my VIS205 course on art, technology, and activism, or cooking a meal and sharing it with friends, or staying up late video calling, or just appreciating the simple turn of the season from summer to fall to winter.


So, what is Princeton? To me, it’s about the people and the campus, but it is also about the day-to-day. It is about who I may meet and want to keep talking to about anything and everything. It is about learning something new about history or science or society or algorithms and mulling it over and over until I’ve gained my own clarity on it. It is about staying open and curious even when it’s incredibly difficult, and all I want to do is complain or feel guilty for complaining.


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