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What I learned after three years at Princeton

Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian

I’m almost certain that the Class of 2024 and 2025 are tired of orientation activities, meetings, and how-tos. Despite the good intention of these events and recommendations, they seem to stretch ad nauseam into late September and early October. However, I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences in an effort to reassure those feeling out of place or awkward at the start of their Princeton career.

I’ve asked stupid questions in lecture — sometimes so vacuous that people audibly laughed. I still cringe when I remember those.


I dropped a plate of food in the dining hall. The plate hit the tile floor and shattered. Mass chaos, salad and pasta everywhere. My face has never turned so red.

I’ve tumbled down the stairs in Gordon Wu Hall more times than I would like to admit. One of them was in front of a Butler College administrator I really respected. The bruises to my body and ego were memorable.

I’ve gotten rejected from more groups than I’ve been accepted to. It seemed like no matter how much I prepared, did my research, and sat up straight in the interviews, I was still passed up. In retrospect, I would say it’s an 80–20 split: the 20 percent being the opportunities to which I was actually accepted.

I’ve been dumped multiple times and a few times had to do the dumping myself. Every time, it has been an unforeseen improvement to my life.

I backed out of a group once after being accepted following a stringent selection process. I realized it wasn’t what I wanted and told the club’s leaders as much. They asked for details and wanted further discussion, but I did not feel like I had to explain myself. So I didn’t.

I’ve ugly cried due to a combination of stress and lack of sleep.


I’ve been late. Whether I slept through an alarm, mixed up the dates, completely forgot a deadline ... yes, I have been late before.

I took a one-year leave of absence due to COVID-19 from Fall 2020 to Spring 2021. I was terrified, leaving all of my colleagues and friends from the Class of 2021 behind. Yet, the people who really mattered and who truly loved me remained by my side and in touch.

Multiple people have asked me about my test scores, and I told them it was none of their business. They pressed me; I didn’t budge.

I once was mocked by a grown man for my Colorado accent. This sounds ridiculous, yes, but I know there are a lot of readers who hide their accents — whether a soft dialect or a full-blown brogue.

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Yet despite the chaos that comes with being human, we all grow into decent people. Two of my friends are officers in one of the no-audition groups on campus; another one graduated and got accepted to medical school.

You would think I myself am a walking disaster, but I got the opportunity to fly one of the silk kites in Opening Exercises at the Chapel, specifically the one to escort President Christopher Eisgruber ’83. Heck, even The Daily Princetonian lets me write opinion columns for them, so that probably means that, despite my flaws, my flukes, and my social blunders, I must not be a total menace to society. Granted, Eisgruber probably didn’t notice me during Opening Exercises and neither did you, and many readers will probably never finish this column, but what I do is important to me. That is what matters most.

This is a column about imposter syndrome. The key takeaway here is that you are going to eventually fall asleep in class, make an idiot of yourself in front of that really attractive crush of yours, and straight-up bomb an exam. There’s a high possibility that your instrument is going to squeak at the wrong moment in what feels like (but really isn’t) the most important audition of your life, your clothes will tear in an unsavory location at an inconvenient moment, and you’ll get caught in a thunderstorm without an umbrella.

But you are going to accomplish things at Princeton that are important. They may not be scientific breakthroughs, and your roommate may not think whatever you accomplished is really that cool. But ask yourself, is it important to you? If the answer is yes, then that is what matters.

You don’t always need to explain yourself. We all come from diverse backgrounds, and we will all someday contribute to this society as graduates of Princeton. Where you came from matters, but what matters more is your future. GPAs, class standings, median incomes — they are all just arbitrary tidbits that only divide the masses. You don’t owe anyone anything.

In closing, be kind, do good, regret nothing, and continue to be unapologetically you; that is how you survive, thrive, and succeed at Princeton. You will be glad you did.

Sally Jane Ruybàlid is a member of the Class of 2022 in the School of Architecture from Trinidad, Colorado. She can be reached at