On Aug. 6, I was one of the people whose life was turned on its head when the University chose to reverse all previous decisions for any in-person classes and resorted to solely online instruction. As a then-member of the Class of 2021 in the School of Architecture who had been guaranteed an in-person spot and a dorm, this drastically changed my future months as I was envisioning them. Ten days, many sleepless nights, and lots of tears and contemplation later, I elected to take a one-year leave of absence, joining the great class of 2022.
I had been on campus last spring during quarantine and it had been suffocating with the lack of interaction and resources. My vibrant friend group, outings, and managing the Princeton Women’s basketball team had withered away to superficial Zoom rendezvous in spring 2020. Along with the holes that could be created in my Architecture education due to a lack of in-person instruction, I had enough reason to jump the Princeton education ship for a year. I closed my eyes and plunged into the unknown.
There’s a bizarrely negative stigma around abandoning things to either return to them later or to rid of them completely, and I am unsure as to why. Unless one is a Marine, a ship captain, or a firefighter, they are under no obligation to go down with a sinking ship. I understand the fear that involves itself with that leap. It’s frightening: jumping ship means a plunge into the waters below, an often-irreversible decision that may result in icy temperatures and possibly less-than-friendly company, like sharks.
Yet, in this new era we are entering that hit us head-on in early 2020, it is time we put on the life jackets or stretch our best swimming muscles and go vaulting off the decks of the status quo. For me, it was taking a year off from Princeton, but jumping ship reaches far beyond a personal decision: we need to jump ship on a lot of things.
Some of the most aggravating responses I’ve heard lately, from wildfire response in California to race relations in the world to the now-debated systemic discrimination in many institutions and accreditation boards, all center around one theme: “This is how it has always been.” It is an homage to antiquated maxims and things that no longer exist, a firm adherence to tradition regardless of its flaws, racism, and/or negative environmental impact. These are all ships people seemingly refuse to abandon.
Let’s face it: tradition is comforting because it is familiar. Like the nice, dry decks of the ship, doing things the way they’ve always been done has a coziness to it that cannot be replicated, which builds to the point of a blithe, blind cycle. But traditions, standards of practice, and things that are being done “like they always have been” leave out those who matter the most: other people, the environment, you name it. Jumping ship makes a statement, a promise to start anew: to find another ship or to make landfall by eschewing “how it always has been” in honor of those who deserve better, even if that party is a party of one, like in my situation.
For me, the unknown waters had better appeal than the situation of Princeton online; and I leapt off the decks of the orange and black ship. Six weeks later, this jump proved to be the better choice. I found myself as an enrolled student at a local community college sitting on my ’86 Plymouth in my hometown of Trinidad, soaking up sun rays as I watched a local team’s baseball game, my face in the fresh autumn breeze while I chatted with some newly-found friends some twelve feet away.
2020 has obviously forced us all out of our comfort zones. It is time we take the courage to jump willingly and abandon the ships that are past the point of repair. Jump so that you may change the maxim of “how it always has been,” to “how we will change this to help” regardless of whether that jump is for yourself, your friends, your family, or society.
Sally Jane Ruybalid is a junior in the School of Architecture from Trinidad, Colorado. She can be reached at email@example.com.