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As class sizes expand, Nassau Hall becomes the center of Opening Exercises

The Class of 2027 on the steps of Blair Arch during the Annual Step Sing.
Rohit Narayanan / The Daily Princetonian

For the second year in a row, Opening Exercises were held in front of Nassau Hall, rather than its traditional location of the University Chapel, signaling a historic change in the ceremony that marks the beginning of students’ academic careers.

Class expansion has caused additional changes in the Pre-Rade. In the past, the procession began as first-years departed the University president’s address in the University Chapel and then marched alongside Nassau Street, through the entrance of FitzRandolph Gate and then to Blair Arch. Over the past two years, however, students have started on Cannon Green, walked to and through FitzRandolph Gate, before being seated in front of Nassau Hall to hear the president’s address. From there, they have walked to Alexander Beach, partaking in the barbecue, the Class Photo, and the Step Sing. 


Opening Exercises entail a speech from University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, interfaith ceremonies, and presentation of undergraduate awards. 

In this year’s address, titled “Think Critically, Embrace Generously”, Eisgruber told students to take the challenges of their time at Princeton in stride. 

“There will inevitably be not just triumphs but also sorrows, not just laughter but also tears, when we challenge ourselves, when we develop and change, and when we care deeply — as we should, as we must — about our academic and co-curricular endeavors and our community,” he said. 

Eisgruber, in discussing struggle, recounted an anecdote he has shared in speeches and in response to questions about his difficulties in his first-year physics class as a student at Princeton. 

“I took a physics class that was too advanced for me, and I struggled throughout my first year. I was too proud, though, to ask anyone for help. I wanted to prove that I could get through it myself. That was a mistake, and it made that year much tougher than it needed to be,” he said, urging students “to be strong enough to ask for help when you need it.” 


Eisgruber also used Maria Ressa ’86, who was present at Opening Exercises and whose 2022 book “How to Stand Up to a Dictator” was this year’s Pre-read for the Class of 2027, as an example of someone who kept her resolve in the face of challenges she faced at Princeton. 

Specifically, Eisgruber shared Ressa’s senior thesis, a play she wrote and which she described in her book as her “own private exorcism” — an emotionally charged and yet transformative experience.

“Your Princeton experience, of course, will differ from Maria Ressa’s. It will be uniquely yours. I expect, though, that your path through Princeton, like Maria’s, will include inspiration but also anger, discoveries that may elicit both enlightenment and tears, and lasting friendships along with vexing challenges,” Eisgruber said. 

Ressa — who is a journalist as well as co-founder and CEO of Filipino news website Rappler — was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her reporting work. 

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Eisgruber finished by reaffirming Princeton’s commitment to equality and inclusion and encouraged students to engage freely in campus discourse. 

“We can, and should, aspire both to think critically and to embrace generously. I hope that is the path you choose while you are here at Princeton and throughout your lives.”

For first-years, Opening Exercises and the Pre-Rade marked an early milestone in their Princeton careers. 

Elisa Gonzalez ’27 told The Daily Princetonian that seeing family members and alumni cheering students on was heartening. 

“You could tell that people were very welcoming,” she said. Gonzalez added that Opening Exercises were a nice “showcase of what Princeton had to offer in terms of diversity.”

Yuki Huang ’27, hailing from Atlanta, Ga., told the ‘Prince’ that the Step Sing was a particularly memorable moment for her that day. 

“Everyone comes together,” she said.

Huang is the first in her family to go to college, and she said partaking in the tradition of the Pre-Rade was a nice welcome into the University community. 

“Minus the fact that it was super hot outside,” she said. 

Sandeep Mangat is a head News editor at The Daily Princetonian.

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