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The W. Sanderson Detwiler 1903 Prize “recognizes the senior who, in the judgment of the student’s classmates, has done the most for their class.” Since 2001, the award has been won by the senior class president for 20 consecutive years.
I propose that for an extraordinary year, we shouldn’t nominate another highly-visible USG official. Instead, we should celebrate the everyday heroes that deserve just as much recognition.
I had grown suspicious of the University’s nomination mechanisms a few months ago when I wrote about the Young Alumni Trustee election, and I was increasingly suspicious after re-reading former Opinion columnist Liam O’Connor’s piece on the inequality of the distribution of academic awards.
O’Connor did not cover two prizes though. One is the 1903 Prize, and the other is the 1901 Medal, which is given to the senior “who has done the most for Princeton.” Seniors write in nominations for both of these prizes during the senior checkout fair, which is occurring now until Sunday, April 25.
I went through the archives of past award winners and found that since the start of the millennium, 100 percent of winners for both the 1901 Medal and the 1903 Prize had positions in USG. For the 1901 Medal, the USG president has won the 1901 Medal 16 times since 2000, only beaten by other USG officers, namely the head of the Menstrual Health Task Force in 2020, the senior class president in 2011 and 2003, the USG Social Chair in 2014, and the Class Vice President in 2004.
However, even more concerning is that the senior class president won the 1903 Prize for 20 consecutive years, from 2001 to 2020. There was one year that the senior class president did not win: 2000’s winner, Spencer Merriweather, was the USG President. Besides this outlier, the senior class president continues to win year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year after year.
What does this tell us? Doing the most for the University apparently entails being a top leader in student government. It is no surprise that there is a correlation between being a top leader in student government and winning these two prizes because government officials are in a position to contribute to the student body, but this should not always be the case. If the purpose of an award is to recognize someone for what they do or what they are, having the award won by student government officers by default devalues other kinds of contributions to the student body.
I think for once that we should recognize our everyday heroes for what they do, especially in a year where we have seen the power of people coming together in the face of adversity: the people who mentor us, commit to service, treat others compassionately, or lead by example virtuously. When I think of who fulfills these qualities, I don’t immediately think of the student government officers.
Personally, one student I think of is my roommate, Brian Foster ’21. During the past year, Brian lived at home in Pittsburgh, where he worked in a grocery store, shopping for people who could not come to the store. He is involved with the Club Football team. He works as a McGraw tutor and teaches children on weekdays as part of Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation; I know because I hear him giving lessons through the thin Spelman Hall walls. He is kind: he will pick up groceries for me when I don’t have the time, he’ll cook up occasional extravagant feasts and share them with his roommates, and he tries his best to be considerate in a semester when he is swamped in thesis work and responsibilities. He does all of this as a Black man living during a period of racial unrest and violence in our country. He’s done a lot that’s worthy of being recognized by the University. He hasn’t held USG office, but why should that stop him (or others like him) from having a good shot at the University’s highest honors?
So, I ask seniors to not just default to writing the current class president’s name, or the past USG president’s name, or even your favorite USG official’s name. I respect the work that all of these people do on USG, especially over this past year, and I have nothing against them. I simply believe that there are many heroes that also deserve the spotlight. Take the time to coordinate with your friends and pool your write-ins for a really worthy friend, and perhaps you’ll uncover a hidden gem for the Princeton community.
Heroes don’t always wear capes… or hold public office.
Daniel Te is a senior in the philosophy department from Woodbridge, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Preeti Iyer won the 1903 Prize in 2020. Iyer won the 1901 Medal in 2020. Juston Forte won the 1903 Prize in 2020. This article also incorrectly stated that the USG Vice President won the 1901 Medal in 2004. The Class Vice President won the 1901 Medal in 2004. The text and graphs of the article have been updated to reflect this.