March 24, 2023, will go down as one of those days that somehow encapsulates everything I love about being a Princeton Tiger. It began with a thesis presentation, continued with a smiling singer, crescendoed on the basketball court, and dwindled with a quiet conversation heading home.
I’d spent the preceding week abuzz from the basketball teams’ victories and a little anxious for my Friday morning thesis presentation for the European Cultural Studies certificate. Since my own thesis advisor currently serves as the certificate program’s director, all I wanted was to not fall flat; to even impress or excel would feel miraculous. I’d put so much weight on this thesis and myself for the past year. It was the culmination of my college career; I wanted to be proud of my work and not disappoint myself or all the people who’ve supported me along the way.
Sometimes, while presenting for a group, I’ll break into a sweat, which can then spiral. On Friday morning, as I collected my script and connected my slideshow to the screen, I braced for the worst. But as I cautiously revved up to speed, I found an unfamiliar flow, even a state of zen, perhaps. Everything melted away as I swept through the figures and photos, the problems and ideas I’ve come to know inside and out — and come to love. And I remembered that despite my working with long-ago historical events and distant theories, I was really trying to make sense of myself in this world. In juggling questions of how nations created a new international order in the early 20th century and then represented this world architecturally, I was really trying, once more, to find another way to make sense of my own existence in a life spread across continents and oceans. As I explained my words and answered questions, all I could feel was this joy of being here, now, getting to do this for myself.
And then, after a lunchtime meeting of the Commencement Committee, where some 30 of my classmates and I worked to shape a triumphant, memorable, and celebratory conclusion to this rocky ride of a college experience, I headed to the Campus Club basement. Waiting in a dreadfully long (but fortunately speedy) line brought about by the Coffee Club’s free spring drink deal, I focused across the room where my friend, Kate Short ’23, a superstar singer-songwriter, stood behind a microphone, guitar in hand. As I slowly shuffled forward, ordered a free honey lavender latte, iced with oat milk, and picked it up for a slow sip, I couldn’t help but smile as Kate dazzled with an original song, a Fleetwood Mac classic, and Caroline Polachek’s “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” — a personal favorite, especially as covered by Kate in a slowed-down, soulful tempo.
I smiled along to each of those songs, occasionally mouthing along to the lyrics, enjoying every beat. I smiled because it brought back memories of the Thursday night before spring break. It was a night that began bopping around with so many friends at Tower’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed party, and it continued with even more friends at Terrace, where Kate was performing many of the same songs. I probably saw nearly all my closest friends that night, in too much green or losing their minds to a Phoebe Bridgers cover. I smiled remembering that night that brought so much joy, both euphoric and soothing. It was a night I got to spend in one of my favorite places: anywhere in the world next to Marie-Rose Sheinerman ’23 — Editor-in-Chief Emerita, as this paper’s style guide requires me to mention, and friend, as I hope to always say.
But maybe more than anything, what made me smile most between sips of coffee, was the beaming smile Kate snuck in between lyrics. It was just an infectious joy, radiating through the room — the sort of joy possible only when it’s clear that someone is doing the thing they love so much that the world would be bankrupt without them and their passion and joy.
I took my coffee to my afternoon translation class which flew by, and then I headed back to Tower to wait for dinner with more friends and then a watch party for Princeton’s Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Between rebounds and free throws, between killer blocks and three-pointers that were nothing but net, I was inundated by a sea of orange and black — in the club, across campus, in cities around the world, and, of course, in the Louisville arena. It was an endless stream of images and sounds of Tigers cheering on Tigers. It was as if every single person who had ever walked the campus had paused their lives to support the 16 players who had donned the orange and black jersey that night.
Between cheers and shouts, I’d catch friends pointing out the player in their class, living on the same dorm floor, in their freshman year zee group, and so on. During commercial breaks, I’d scroll Twitter just to see professors, journalists, politicians, and countless others posting various combinations of Princeton symbols and phrases, as if everyone who’s anyone out in the world was once and still a Tiger at heart. And during halftime, I chuckled along to Head Sports Editor Wilson Conn’s livestream on this paper’s Instagram account while other writers and editors cheered him on in the comments.
Even as the game closed on a loss and the camera feed locked in on shots of the players who seemed on the verge of tears, provoking ‘aww’s and applause in the room around me, all I could dwell on was the energizing warmth and love of an entire community together, one ambush of Tigers taking on the world, all looking out for each other. Those are the feelings that define my favorite moments at this funny school. I only hope and wish for countless more — though the looming graduation currently seems destined to diminish the number and frequency of these moments in my life compared to the last few years.
Then, as midnight approached, after I’d moved Tower’s couches back to their place from their game-viewing location, I ended the day with Cecilia Zubler ’23 once more. (An associate head copy editor emerita at this paper, a friend, you know how it goes.) Our conversation standing around a club quickly emptying out became one while walking home. It was the perfect way to end the day. The walk and talk reminded me of the comfort of a friend who just gets you and of how lucky I am to have one just like that.
How lucky am I that I get to love all this. How lucky am I to have and love this Princeton life. How lucky we Tigers are.
José Pablo Fernández García is a senior from Ohio and Head Editor Emeritus for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at email@example.com.