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This is a campus structured around success. We chose Princeton because we wanted it to be as important as it promised us we would be; Princeton chose us because we had proven that we wanted it. In high school, we had shown ourselves to be — more so than hundreds of thousands of other high schoolers — responsible, intelligent and obedient; teachable and tractable. Now here, we are being primed not to enter the workforce, but to command it. We are expensive parts of an even more expensive machine that churns out value-creators, trained in how to lead, how to innovate, how to generate capital. Some day soon, we are told, we will control Capitol Hill, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and we must learn how to be these kinds of people: Leaders, trail-blazers, bosses.
I decided my major in literally a split second. I was sitting in a room in 1879 Hall waiting for precept to begin, when I realized—suddenly — I was content. I felt happy to be in this world, in this school, in this room, in this body, and in that moment, I decided I would study religion. It was a pretty big decision to let my gut make for me, but it wasn’t totally random: I had always been concerned with spirituality and morality and meaning, I just hadn’t yet articulated to myself that religion might be the best way for me to pursue those interests.
When you join an eating club (if you join an eating club), a weird thing happens: You become the baby again. Though you’re basically halfway though your undergraduate career — if you keep churning smoothly through the system like the rule-abider you are — and a legal adult, you suddenly find yourself infantilized. The older members beam at you and tell you how to bus your plate. When you show up for meals alone, you feel intimidated, awkward. You wander wide-eyed through unfamiliar halls, feeling once more that overwhelming newness you haven’t felt since freshman fall.
I have chosen — and it’s sad that this had to be an actual choice — to spend my time as a Princeton student focusing on what I’m actually learning and not on the number of zeroes at the end of my probable starting salary. This means I fight with my parents a lot and have a gut-deep distaste for the career fair. This also means that I have never really been that stressed out about grade deflation. Most of the time, I feel that I deserve the grade I get. If I think I deserved a better grade than I received, I think back to the outfits I used to wear in sixth grade and remember never to trust my own judgment. I also remind myself that the learning is what’s important, not the letter.
During my internship program this summer, my fellow interns and I gathered in The Huffington Post offices, talking to former Princeton Dean of Religious Life (and current HuffPo Religion editor) Paul Raushenbush. He had answered all of our questions about the religious angle of HuffPo, the spiritual climate of New York City, and the challenges of working with religion in a country that calls itself secular. We had run out of things to share. There was a small pause, and then Raushenbush said to us, “Talk to me about what this summer has taught you about vocation.”
My dad likes to tell the story of the time when, as my soccer coach, he instructed my team to run a lap. I was four years old at the time, and in response, I spun around, plopped on the grass and said, “I won’t!” Seeing my example, my dad says, my teammates dropped down one by one, echoing my insubordination. He had a full-scale revolt on his hands. No lap was run.
If you happened to sit within five feet of me in any public space during the last semester, you probably heard me agonizing about Bicker. I’m the most indecisive person in the entire world, and (similarly hyberbolic) I repeated the same arguments while my friends — used to this kind of behavior from me — told me to calm down, that I was taking everything too seriously.
Orange Key owes me money. This past month, I’ve done four unofficial tours of campus with interested or admitted students who want to sit in on a class or hear “what Princeton’s really like.” I don’t mind it, but it definitely puts me in a lot of awkward situations with people I barely know. Recently, for example, I showed my mother’s friend’s daughter — who I had never met — around campus and talked to her for a while about my college experience. During our conversation, I asked her if she had visited anywhere else. Yale, she said.
Last week marked the end of a month that many on college campuses loathe. On Nov. 1, boyfriends, male friends, friends with benefits and crushes begin a 30-day de-evolution from handsome, friendly looking guys to unshaven louts. Their upper lips grow sparse hairs; their necks become covered with patchy, itchy-looking beards, and being seen in public with them usually entails explaining that, no, he’s not homeless, he’s just participating in Movember to raise awareness about prostate cancer.
Last Friday, columnist Charlie Metzger wrote a piece called “NassWatch” in which he criticized the Nassau Weekly for being irrelevant, poorly written and incoherent. He is responding to a Nassau Weekly feature called “PrinceWatch” in which Nass writers critique and mock the writing in the ‘Prince.’ As Metzger points out, the last time the Nass did this all the “ridiculous” and “Princesque” articles they derided were from the Opinion section. This is awkward, because — full disclosure here — I write for the Nassau Weekly, too.
One night, coming home from the Street, I came across a close friend who was sobbing. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me she hated Princeton and had made the wrong decision in coming here. When I pressed her to explain more specifically what she meant, she spat out, “Everyone here is so douchey!” None of my attempts to cheer her worked, and she stormed away. The next day, when I ran into her and asked vaguely how she was feeling, she brushed the episode off.
The Pre-Rade should have been about unity. Everything in the setup of the day suggested togetherness: upperclassmen cheering as they welcomed the freshmen to the Princeton community, flags waving, the band playing. But as I looked around at my 1300 classmates, I didn’t see cohesion; I didn’t see a unified group of my peers beginning a journey together. I saw a class divided into six residential colleges, separated by colored T-shirts, each college commencing an individual journey.