The largest first-year class in Princeton’s history marched through FitzRandolph Gate in the Pre-Rade on Sunday, Sept. 4, marking the beginning of their four years at the University.
Opening Exercises for the Class of 2026 were held in front of Nassau Hall, rather than in the University’s Chapel, the event’s site since 1929.
First-years paraded through the iconic gate on their way to the seats arranged in front of Nassau Hall in a change to the traditional timeline. In previous years, the class has walked out of the University Chapel after Opening Exercises and then through FitzRandolph Gate during their Pre-Rade.
Opening Exercises mark the beginning of the academic year with an address from University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83, the presentation of several undergraduate awards, and spiritual remarks from a host of different traditions.
Eisgruber began his address by citing the historical importance that Opening Exercises has played in welcoming new students, and the opportunity the event provides to “reflect on the larger purposes that should guide our community as we begin another year.”
“I’ve always enjoyed the energy of Opening Exercises and the feelings of renewal and promise that accompany them,” he added. “Our gradual recovery from the long pandemic has heightened that sense of joy.”
Eisgruber also remarked on particular lessons that the pandemic has taught him, stating that “our extended experience with social distancing and remoteness has highlighted the value of presence and place in our lives.”
“I want to urge you to be fully present in this special and marvelous place,” he said.
His appeal for students to actively immerse themselves in their communities formed the theme of his address. He presented Jordan Salama ’19, author of this year’s Pre-read, as an example of someone who did this well.
“[Salama] learns from his travels because he engages energetically and imaginatively with the places that he visits. He is fully present to the people he meets and he lets them be fully present to him,” he said.
Eisgruber urged students to not only build personal connections with each other and with professors during their time here, but also make time for quiet reflection.
“Cross Lake Carnegie and walk along the Towpath by the canal,” he said. “Leave your phone behind occasionally. Give yourself a chance to get lost in thought.”
Dean of the College Jill Dolan also presented several undergraduate honors.
Arya Maheshwari ’25 and Yuri Yu ’25 received the Freshman First Honor Prize, presented to sophomore students who display “exceptional academic achievement in the work of their first year.”
Casey Beidel ’24 and Brendan Kehoe ’24 received the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize, and Beatrix Bondor ’23 and Lucy Sirrs ’23 shared the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize.
The Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award, given to the member of this year’s senior class with the highest academic standing for all preceding college work at the University was given to Aleksa Milojević ’23.
Following Opening Exercises, members of the Class of 2026 marched around Nassau Hall for the Pre-Rade, cheered on by family members, students in other class years, and alumni.
Elliot Lee ’26 said marching in the Pre-Rade felt “monumental.”
“[The Pre-Rade] seems to be a part of a historical legacy, and I think that’s very significant,” he told The Daily Princetonian in an interview.
“I think it definitely helped us feel more integrated into the community as a whole,” he added.
Annabelle Edwards ’26 of New College West echoed that sentiment, telling the ‘Prince’ that the Pre-Rade was “a nice welcome to Princeton.”
“It was really helpful that everyone was in their college T-shirts, that helped you identify people that you hadn't seen before,” she said.
Edwards added that as she was moving into NCW, she was struck by the fact that she was among the first cohort of people to live there. Jocelyne Wijaya ’26, another member of NCW, said that for this reason, marching in the Pre-Rade felt “honorable and very exciting.”
“I think it was just a really good time for students to see each other, interact, and mingle,” Wijaya added.
Sandeep Mangat is an Associate News Editor who has reported on labor shortages on and off campus, University guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, international student life, and research led by Princeton faculty. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @s_smangat.