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A year after Caterpillar, the Class of 2023 spreads their wings

A photo of parents taking pictures of the graduating students clad in black caps and gowns as they walk into the Chapel.
Members of the Class of 2023 walk into the Chapel with their graduation attire in preparation for Baccalaureate.
Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

“A pervasive commitment to serve the nation and the world” is one of just a few characteristics highlighted in the first sentence of Princeton University’s mission statement. Indeed, from U.S. presidents to senators to Supreme Court justices, Princeton alumni have occupied some of the highest offices of leadership and political power since the University’s founding.

Princeton students have countless opportunities to get involved in activism, student government, and political societies on campus. For some, these high-visibility experiences may lay the groundwork for future careers in government or public service. For others, they may serve as stepping stones to often lucrative jobs in the private sector. Among some notable groups, including graduating Undergraduate Student Government (USG) presidents, the latter is more common.  


The Daily Princetonian took a look at a few of these campus leaders from the just-graduated Class of 2023, hoping to catch a glimpse of what may be in store for young alumni as they enter public life. The Class of 2023 included major political figures on campus whose influence spanned multiple spheres. These figures were all key actors in campus advocacy as students and come from a variety of places on the political spectrum; the selection is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather a sampling of just a few of the voices most involved in advocacy at Princeton over the past four years.

A particularly memorable flash point for campus activists came with March 2022’s “Caterpillar referendum.” Sponsored by the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP), the goal of the referendum was to pressure the University to boycott Caterpillar, a construction equipment company whose machinery PCP said was being used to demolish Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. 

Then-PCP President Eric Periman ’23 argued that “This is not a company that should be allowed to build our new Art Museum, nor our new Lake Campus Development Project, nor our new Engineering Quadrangle. It is not a company that should have their machinery strewn across our campus for students, visitors, alumni, and staff to see each and every day.”

On campus, Periman was also awarded Princeton’s Liman Fellowship for public interest legal work, and he co-organized a demonstration outside of the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) protesting against Princeton’s summer programs in the State of Israel. 

On the opposite side of the referendum debate, then-USG Treasurer and outspoken campus conservative Adam Hoffman ’23 fought avidly against efforts to boycott Caterpillar. In initial meetings, he suggested that the boycott measure might lead to a rise in antisemitic attacks on campus, and he took issue with the referendum for its seeming alignment with the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to “pressure Israel to comply with international law” via economic tactics. 


The referendum eventually passed but Hoffman joined an appeal after initial election results, arguing that the election had been run unfairly. The appeal asked the Senate to include abstentions in the overall vote count — which an elections official had mistakenly informed opposition members they would be — nullify the results of the election, or hold a revote. The appeal was later upheld, with USG deciding to compromise by writing a position paper explaining the circumstances surrounding the vote.

The referendum became an apt representation of Princeton’s internal political climate. Specifically, though there was plenty of public sparring — in USG meetings and in the pages of this paper — the student body at large was not necessarily as engaged as the public conversation suggested they were. Then-student body President Mayu Takeuchi ’23 reflected on this in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

“I wouldn’t consider Princeton a political campus,” she said, explaining that although there were certain student groups and communities that showed “deep levels of engagement” with the issue, voter turnout overall among students was not particularly high, even for a referendum that garnered attention from national media and political organizations. 

So what became of the two clashing figures at the center of the Caterpillar debate? 

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Periman wrote at the time that “Caterpillar has shown time and time again that they are perfectly comfortable remaining complicit in heinous and violent acts.” He has taken on a role as a business analyst at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that has been criticized in the past for its complicity in the illegal activities of some of its most controversial government and corporate clients. 

“Following Princeton I will be moving to Washington D.C. in August to begin work as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company focusing in their Public Sector practice. I am deeply excited to see where this chapter leads me!” Periman wrote in a LinkedIn post earlier in the year.

McKinsey & Company’s clients include Saudi Arabia’s autocratic leadership, which obtained information about dissidents driving negative perception of its economic policies from a report the consulting firm prepared. The individuals mentioned in the report were subsequently arrested and a Twitter (now known as X) account was shut down. In 2019, McKinsey was also cited in a lawsuit to have advised Purdue Pharma on how the company could boost sales of opioids, despite being aware of their addictive potential and the deaths that had resulted from their usage. 

Periman did not respond to a request for comment for this piece.

McKinsey is known to actively seek Princeton students for employment opportunities and has a dedicated recruiting team — composed of a number of University alumni — tasked with tapping graduates. 

Hoffman on the other hand found work for Ron Desantis’s 2024 presidential campaign, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) files reviewed by the ‘Prince.’ Campaign filings currently available on the FEC website that show disbursements through the end of June indicate that, at least up until that point, Hoffman was making just over $1,000 per week for his work in an unnamed role.

Hoffman was no stranger to the political limelight even on campus. From making arguments about free speech on college campuses in the pages of The New York Times, to moderating an event with Senator Ted Cruz ’92 (R-TX) — for whom he interned in 2016 — to holding an officer position in Tigers for Israel, Hoffman was one of his class’s most active conservative leaders.

As editor-in-chief of the conservative publication The Princeton Tory, he co-organized an event with Abigail Shrier, an anti-trans author. He was the only USG member to vote ‘no’ on sponsoring a referendum to increase gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Near the end of his term in USG, he proposed a referendum on defining and combating antisemitism that ultimately failed after a debate over the chosen definition’s treatment of Israel.

Despite his political involvement on campus, Hoffman’s work with the DeSantis campaign represents a pivot from a younger Hoffman’s attitude towards political engagement: “There’s something in politics which is toxic to me and repulsive, and I want to stay out of the fray,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2020 as part of a feature that characterized him as a uniter of Democrats and Republicans.

For Takeuchi — arguably one of the most recognizable public figures given her role as USG president — graduation has taken her on a different route, as she’s taken on a role as a research assistant at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

As president, Takeuchi, a student in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), advocated for sustainability on campus and rose through the ranks of USG. Prior to being elected, she co-organized a conference on environmental policy in the era of COVID-19, served as a Bogle Fellow working on environmental justice initiatives in New Jersey, and spoke to students in support of fossil fuel divestment. 

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Takeuchi discussed how she’s learned to emphasize lived experiences in policy discussions, both in her work in USG and at Brookings.

“That’s why I chose to take this position at Brookings Metro and work on the applied research team,” Takeuchi said — because it gives her the opportunity to both research proven policies and work directly with leaders in the cities where those policies may be implemented. 

Takeuchi’s career choice is rare among graduating USG presidents — among the last 10, she is the only one to have gone on to work for a think tank. Half have taken jobs with consulting or finance firms.

According to Takeuchi, one of the most significant policy initiatives of her tenure played out in USG’s efforts to enhance mental health resources on campus. In an extensive 2022 report, a team that included Takeuchi and other USG representatives published a number of recommendations towards this goal, resulting in the establishment of a 24/7 Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) hotline and progress towards a number of other benchmarks for mental health care.

Other prominent campus activists were among the small but relatively vocal conservative community on campus — in a 'Prince' survey, only 9.4 percent of the Class of 2023 self-identified as ‘somewhat conservative’ or ‘very conservative.’ Myles McKnight ’23 often appeared in campus news, especially in relation to conservative politics and discussions of free speech. He served as president of Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), a campus organization focused on free speech and institutional neutrality.

In 2022, McKnight addressed first-year students as part of an event on free expression during their orientation. Like Hoffman, McKnight was also involved in the opposition to the Caterpillar referendum, and he co-wrote a letter criticizing a SPIA dean’s statements on the 2022 Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, saying that the statements violated institutional neutrality.

McKnight’s investment in issues of free speech persists following graduation, as he’s taken on a full-time position working as a “Public Discourse Fellow" at the Witherspoon Institute, a Princeton-based think tank founded by notable conservative professor Robert P. George. He will speak at an event titled “Free Speech Rights of Students” on Sept. 12 as a part of that role. McKnight is also working has a research assistant for George.

McKnight’s co-author for that letter, Abigail Anthony ’23, served as president of Princeton’s Federalist Society chapter and vice president of POCC, as well as being a member of multiple other conservative and political organizations. During her time at Princeton, Anthony also published a number of opinion pieces in national media outlets, including USA Today and the National Review, a conservative magazine.

In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ Anthony shared that she would be attending Oxford University while also continuing to work part-time for the National Review.

“I was overjoyed to witness the growth of conservative activity on campus,” Anthony wrote of her time at Princeton. “The average number of attendees for the Federalist Society events grew from 10 to 50 during my four years as a student, meanwhile organizations like the Network of Enlightened Women were founded.”

Some others in the Class of 2023 opted to found their own advocacy groups, instead of focusing on more established political societies. Jennifer Lee ’23 took this route, founding the nonprofit Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative (AADI) in 2021 with the goal of “amplify[ing] disabled Asian American voices and [providing] the next generation of disabled Asian Americans with the tools, resources, and infrastructure to thrive in a world that has not historically always welcomed them.” 

Lee worked with USG on disability issues and also served as co-president of Princeton’s Asian American Student Association (AASA). In 2021, she spoke at a Stop Asian Hate rally and vigil as part of a widespread movement responding to acts of violence against Asians and Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, Lee works at the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy research and advocacy group, with plans to attend Harvard Law School in 2025.

Takeuchi provided reflections on campus conversations around social and political issues on campus, noting that the Class of 2023 was the last before the COVID-19 pandemic to have an in-person orientation. 

“The most important thing when it comes to service and navigating these political conversations is actually being able to see the other person as a full person and learning to respect and empathize with where they’re coming from,” Takeuchi told the ‘Prince,’ recounting how many of the campus leaders she engaged in political discussions with while at Princeton were often initially classmates she had built relationships with in non-political contexts. After four years at Princeton, she said, “I have been frustrated with the lack of that level of empathy and conversation on campus, because I think a lot of conversations are siloed.”

“I want Princeton to be a place that keeps bringing together people of different backgrounds and different perspectives and different experiences,” she said.

In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ Lee reflected on the role of activism on Princeton’s campus. “As long as we’re thinking critically about how we’re leaving this campus (and world) better than we found it,” she wrote, “I trust that every undergraduate has the potential to be an advocate as it pertains to their talents, interests, and capacities.”

Annie Rupertus is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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Editor's Note: This piece has been updated after McKnight clarified he does not play in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.