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As an alumna (Class of 1991) and given my current role (Associate Director, Student-Athlete Services), I’m inclined to love a bonfire. Add that I was an English major, and I’ll admit to being a little thrilled by the metaphor on Cannon Green.
With an epic night (and fall athletic season) behind us, I feel a responsibility to memorialize what we saw and heard, so that we might draw a little heat and light from those flames in the inevitably cold and sometimes dark days and nights ahead.
What did we see and hear on Cannon Green?
We heard our University president express gratitude for being back on campus, for being able to uphold a tradition, for the team’s formidable offense and defense, and for the persistence to endure physical, social, and environmental adversity. We heard him praise our team, coaches, staff, and team around the team. He used words like “excellence,” and “pride” and he celebrated “an occasion to come together.”
Student government leaders articulated their joy in sharing the moment as a student body because, at Princeton, the members of a championship team are also your roommates, and your classmates — they have p-sets due the morning after the bonfire, just like everyone else.
Our new Director of Athletics reminded everyone that the night capped off four conference titles, five teams making it to NCAA tourneys, and consistently excellent performances, and he thanked the campus community for showing up all fall. Women’s Lightweight Crew was honored as they led a locomotive after winning a national championship last spring. Shoutouts to all our mega-accomplished fall teams and the winter teams are now underway.
Our head football coach got the crowd to up its “hell yeah” game, and then he thanked them all for bringing the energy to bear on a team that had “such great heart.” He lit a bonfire as a student athlete more than 30 years ago. You could hear the love he has in his voice for the guys who would do so on this night.
The captains of the 2018 football team spoke from not distant memory that “excellence is not easy to come by” and that this team “did the work” to earn the celebration.
What I want to underline and lift up above all the messages from the 2021 bonfire is what one of our six captains focused on. Standing together as captains who guided their team not just through a championship season, but through all kinds of obstacles along a longer-than-anticipated journey, the message was: “I appreciate everybody.” In addition to naming their retiring athletic trainer, the band, the Princeton Football Association, and the Princeton Varsity Club, a captain of your football team said, “Everybody played an important role. Everybody is appreciated.”
That’s who your football team is, Princeton. A team that does not give up if it takes five overtimes to finish. A team that makes sure the seniors and their families are recognized even if they have to dodge thunderstorms to do it. A team that, when the campus community gathers to celebrate them, turns the spotlight out and shares it right back on you.
There are lots of things to be cynical about in the world right now. There are all kinds of work to be done here on campus, in Princeton, and everywhere else where humanity comes with no promise of perfection. We could divide up as athletes and non-athletes, as occurs on many college campuses. But we have the opportunity here to do it differently — to respect and learn from every member of this community, their stories, and their experiences.
Your football team and the 2021 bonfire remind us to hold on to the things that inspire us, bring us together, and keep us going through the rough parts.
I hope you all keep showing up for each other. Remember what it felt like to stand next to someone you just met in that warm glow, and feel connected. Be on the same team as everybody else here whenever you have the chance. Even when there is work to do. Especially when there is work to do. Cheer for your teams. They are cheering for you.
Thanks to everyone who gave us a bonfire this year.
Jess Deutsch ’91 is the Associate Director of Student-Athlete Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include that the Women’s Lightweight Crew Team won a national championship last spring.