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Toni Morrison called Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me “required reading,” “revelatory,” and “profound.” She also wrote that the book was “visceral.” While I read Between the World and Me with different life experiences and nowhere near the literary talent of Toni Morrison, I concur with her assessment of the truly profound elements of the text.
The heat of August finally subsided, replaced by whisperings of the deliciously brisk autumn to come. It was a cool evening as my mom and I strolled around campus, and I took in the Gothic architecture of the University with fresh eyes. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found the plaque for “CAMPBELL HALL 4,” my new residence for the upcoming year. No longer was I just a townie, or an onlooker who lived nearby — I was about to be a student! I was about to be part of the Princeton experience.
July 3 was the day I, like many former theater kids across the globe, had been waiting for all summer.
On Aug. 4, 2019, a mass shooting broke out in the historic Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio. Nine were killed and 17 more were injured in front of Ned Peppers Bar. Police officers fatally shot the shooter in less than a minute.
For the past several days, I’ve wrestled with whether or not I should voice my thoughts online. Activism on social media can often seem performative and masturbatory, each post a way for the user to publicly assert their wokeness. I don’t mean to undermine the power of social media. It’s an incredibly useful tool, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of the platform, but it would also be foolish to ignore the massive audience afforded by social media — for many of us, the largest captive audience we have access to. By racking up views, likes, and comments, social media taints anything we post with a self-lauding effect.
A week before May 7, my friends and I gathered in the parking lot next to our high school for our final assembly. The air was buzzing with excitement: 123 seniors announcing our future plans and college decisions, counting the days to the last day of school, to graduation, to move-in. We shifted from leg to leg on the hot asphalt, snow still on the grass, celebrating four years of being together as a class. We played silly games, laughing at inside jokes, plotting senior pranks for the rest of the week. In 13 days, we would no longer be high school students.
I had never used Facebook before coming to Princeton.
It is officially the fifth week of attending Zoom University, and I will admit that I’m not as big of a fan of the online platform as I thought I would be. For some reason, I find that I am more tired, more stressed, and less motivated than when actually at Princeton. Attending classes from the comfort of my bed is turning into my academic Achilles heel.
I first encountered TikTok last summer on YouTube from a video compilation of posts that all used the same sound. For those not yet familiar with TikTok, one of the features of this social media platform is the ability to take the sound from other users’ posts and reuse it in your own. The compilation I found featured posts all using the song “My Brother’s Gay and That’s Okay!” from Comedy Central’s “The Other Two.” The compilation most likely appeared in my YouTube feed due to the fact that I had just recently streamed the first season of this new TV series, and the algorithms behind social media got to work.
In the midst of this global crisis, everything feels uncertain. From anxiety about the health of family and friends and the state of the economy to uncertainties over summer jobs and trying to adjust to online classes, the entire world has been turned upside down.
Recently, my mother asked me what I miss most from my incomplete first year as a Princeton student. I immediately wondered how she could expect me to answer such a seemingly impossible question. How could I recall seven of the best months of my life and choose only one favorite memory, person, or place? She was expectant, so I tried.
With quarantining and all, I suddenly have a lot of time to spend inside my own head. No doubt, in another world, I’d rather spend that time picnicking on Poe Field, studying in the Trustee Reading Room, and drinking Friday night wine in my friend’s dorm. At the end of the day, though, my own head isn’t such a bad place to be. It’s chock-full of the one source of entertainment and comfort no self-isolation can ever take away: memories.
I had forgotten the joy I received from checking out books from the library. When I was in kindergarten, we were only allowed to take one book from the school library each time my class went, and we were only able to take the book from the library to the classroom. When my teacher announced sometime in January of that year that we would now be allowed to take our library books home, I was thrilled. I was at that school until eighth grade, and as the years went by, the library rules relaxed around things such as the number of books we could check out at once. And I took advantage of that library as much as I possibly could. Yet something changed when I arrived at my high school. The first time I tried to check out a book from my high school’s library, I wasn’t able to do so because I wasn’t yet in the system. As coursework and extracurriculars took center stage in my life, I never really returned to the library — at least not to check out a book. It also didn’t help that everything at my high school was either online or had to be purchased.
By Wednesday morning my microeconomics midterm exam had been postponed just before it was scheduled to start, and all I wanted to do was go somewhere to let out all my frustration with this week. I wanted to go to the middle of Poe Field and yell until my vocal cords could produce only silence. I wanted to teleport to my dog at home and just nap while holding onto her. I wanted to take my microeconomics midterm exam as scheduled and just absolutely crush it more than I had ever wanted to take any other exam in my life. I wanted my biggest worries this week to be intertemporal budget constraints and whether the salvation of bears is a normal good just like they had been about a week ago.
Highways, hills, and houses fly past, drowned by sunlight into indiscernible shapes, colorful blurs in my vision, which struggles to work at optimum capacity before 9 a.m. The only reason why I would ever get up this early, aside from anxiously skimming my poor forgotten readings, is if I were given the opportunity to travel. So when I saw the email from the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding about a day trip that would allow me to step foot in Washington, D.C., for the first time, I begrudgingly set my alarm for 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Mention afternoon tea and visions of “the 1 percent,” lounging in posh British castles and gardens, come to mind. And, at the beginning of this academic year, this concept returned to the castle-like environs of Firestone Library. Rather than experiencing the joys of late meal or venturing to one of Princeton’s coffee shops, University students and faculty can now enjoy afternoon tea in Firestone Library’s Tiger Tea Room on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
I was laying in the courtyard — the galleons of the sky were dancing impressionists imitating varying animals and beings — when President Eisgruber walked over to me and began to say in a monotone voice: “The library is now closed. The library is now closed.”
January is a mix of emotions for Princeton students. It's an odd combination of excitement for the start of the new year, frustration from the odd schedule ending holiday celebrations prematurely, and anxiety about the tsunami of class material to be covered before finals. I expected all of these feelings before leaving for break, and although new to this, I was mentally bracing myself for this whirlwind. I wasn’t immune to any of these post-break effects, but no one mentioned the overwhelming homesickness I would feel. I am not usually one to feel “homesick”: I decided I wanted to go to college out-of-state by my freshman year of high school, and coming from New York, I was aware that I was lucky enough to be one bus ride away from home. So why was I pulling a full Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”?