Last week, the most powerful politician in Europe could be found chatting with Princeton undergraduates at an ice cream social organized by the Davis International Center.
On Sept. 22, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrived at Princeton to speak on the “importance of democracy, the European Commission’s response to the war in Ukraine, and the fight against climate change.” But the next day, she was socializing with dozens of international students at an outdoor ice cream party.
According to students who attended the event, von der Leyen was relaxing at the Fountain of Freedom when the students recognized her.
“The equivalent would be seeing Joe Biden just chilling at the fountain,” said Seppe De Pauw ’24, an international student from Belgium.
The event von der Leyen attended was the World Wide Welcome, organized as a festive celebration at the Fountain of Freedom. Advertisements, which were sent to students via email, read, “Join us for ice cream, board games, activities, and more! This is a great opportunity to meet your fellow international community!”
“World Wide Welcome is a great opportunity for our international community, which includes students, scholars, spouses and their children, to come together and celebrate the diversity they represent at Princeton,” Assistant Director for International Programs Mariyah Salem told The Daily Princetonian.
But once they arrived to the advertised event, students were surprised by the special guest.
“She was super, super nice and friendly,” said Antek Hasiura ’24, an international student from Poland and one of the organizers of the event. “She spoke and took selfies with everyone that asked.”
Hasiura recalled hanging up flags and setting up for ‘World Wide Welcome’ when he noticed security details arriving first. “Then all of a sudden [von der Leyen] showed up,” Hasiura said.
De Pauw also received personal advice from von der Leyen regarding pursuing a career with the European Union.
“She said definitely finish your degree, then apply for a traineeship and always keep on learning, … if you come from Princeton, you have the credentials,” De Pauw told the ‘Prince’ of what von der Leyen said.
“The encounter had me taken aback at how crazy this university is, and the extent of its reputation across the world,” he said.
Close to 95 international students, scholars, and their family members attended the event, according to Salem.
Von der Leyen’s office did not respond to request for comment by press time.
Edward Tian is a news and features writer who experiments with data driven and alternative story format (ASF) reporting. He can be reached on Twitter @edward_the6.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that President von der Leyen ate ice cream with students. In fact, she attended the event but did not eat ice cream.