“I never change; I’m too stuck in my ways.”
There is a hope that we forget that “corrupt but necessary” college admissions process once in college. This, of course, is hypocritical and hopeless, for who hasn’t heard that kid boast of turning down Yale, or boast of some score? Who hasn’t heard some dude call the admissions process “corrupt but necessary,” which itself ceases the forgetting? Who hasn’t, him or herself, thought about what if (that is, what if I had gone somewhere else)? It is unforgettable, for it is the reason we are here. Self-imposed detachment from one’s past is simply an acknowledgement of its importance.
More to the point, there is an appended hope for the end of “dehumanizing” applications, those whittlings of humans into web browsers. This hope is more legitimate, for applications are pains in the asses. I myself shared this hope—at least that they would stay away until graduate school or the job market, so I could actually learn somethang.
“No way, Joelse,” said Princeton.
From the moment I arrived here, everywhere is the application. Many courses—many interesting courses—require applications, or DEPARTMENTAL CONSENT. Much of the (professionalized) artistic expression on campus is application-based, most obscenely the Lewis Center’s “Introductory” creative writing classes, which require students for their submitted samples to have some preternatural talent, or past experience in writing. Almost all of the groups (acapella, dance) have auditions. There is no room to experiment in art, or in different fields of art; there is no recklessness. Art becomes a project, a specialization, a great-looking nut on the resume.
Many of my Freshman friends began their summer 2011 internship search months ago, attending resume workshops at Career Services; almost all of my freshman friends spent hours applying to Freshman Seminars. They had hardly begun the school year, yet were already looking past it.
One must apply for funding, for leadership roles, for help. There is, at Princeton, no settling, no reflection on the present, but only constant gazing forward to the next activity, the next frenetic indulgence of our powerful and incredibly useful minds. We are always applying, despite that romantic—and false—distaste for applications.
“It’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight”
Princeton is incredibly diverse. That is, it is externally diverse: diverse in race, religion, class, nationality, interests, aversions, beliefs—all things that come through in an application.
The issue with this diversity, which is a fascinating thing, is that there is no diversity of existence or approach. Woody Woo majors approach their studies in the same way Architecture majors do, with the same combination of careerism, somewhat genuine intellectual interest, trivializing obsession with the field, and complaints of challenging work. Elsewhere, students participating in the College Democrats do so for the same reason—which is doing something to do something one is sort of interested in—that students participate in the Palestine Committee. Students who frequent Cloister are the same as those at Terrace or TI, swimmers the same as violinists—all purposeful, all professional, all perfect. (Of course they are different and beautiful people, but their sameness on these accounts is stunning.)
The external diversification of the student body only leads to the sameness of diversity; everyone is diverse in his or her own rote way: looking for a career, caring or not caring about the environment, going to “the Street” or not. And in deeper realms of existence, such as human interaction and approaches to life and learning, there is dulling homogeneity. Of course, some people truly are different in a real way, but on a far smaller scale than student population percentages would suggest.
Though some students might bring Glocks and some will pack Uzis, most bring some form of gun to the gunfight of Princeton. Those who have the courage and deep individuality to bring knives are few and far between. Of course, the gun-holders will succeed because that is the system in place, but in creating a little confusion, a slight cosmic imbalance, the knife-wielders do everyone a disruptive benefit.
“I’m high off the life!”
All that said, academics at Princeton are as promised. The professors are brilliant and pedagogically talented and relatively willing to interact with students. The accessibility of some of the most exciting “thinkers” really makes me nut and always provides interesting conversations and exciting moments. The students, whatever their intentions, are generally engaged in the classroom in discussion and care about learning. There are awesome guest speakers every faloopin’ day—almost too many. Essentially, Princeton’s intellectual life is incredibly happening and intoxicating.
“These lights will inspire you!”
One less essential aspect of Princeton, one I’ve noticed whilst biking to “the Street” or my extracurricular commitments, is the strangeness of the lighting. At the darkest moments, one can only see a scattering of yellow bulbs against the black, for the black is cloaked in itself. Often, one can hardly see at all, given the dimness of those bulbs and also their nonexistence in important places (i.e., where I am trying to unlock my bike lock); this makes for an exciting, decidedly un-Princeton-esque blind ride through campus, as one avoids those ubiquitous posts that stick out of the ground to block cars, avoids people, and avoids those ubiquitous public safety officers.
Also, in McCosh 50, if one sits on the right side of the hall between two p.m. and 3:30 p.m., the sunlight comes in and it blinds you outright. Also, almost every room on campus has poor, very yellowed lighting, so our days here are hazes.
But, in a sense, the lights inspire us to focus on our work (and not the lights’ beauty) and to work as fast as we can to move on, just as the dimness of the outdoor lamps urges us inside. I dunno.
“Earth is turning, souls burning”
I do know I come to Princeton from a religious Jewish high school, and something that has struck me atop the dome is the lack of spiritual life on campus. I’m not dubbing this good or bad; I’m only reflecting, yo! At my high school, we were in constant conversation over spiritual issues, such small things as the meaning of life; the generation or eliciting of meaning through religion or other practices; transcendence of all forms; the beauty of the natural and manmade worlds; and the value of thinking about the world directly (i.e., not through academics) in aesthetic, emotional, metaphysical, and religious terms. There was a consciousness of theology and spirituality that pervaded the student body, and students could reject such hogwash or accept—but they had to think about it.
Here, what religious groups exist do so only in the shadows; they have no face or body. There is no atmosphere of spirituality to inspire the campus life between the exciting worlds of the classroom and the street.
More spirituality, in my mind, does not at all mean more religion on campus. It means consciousness of religion, but also thoughtfulness about one’s surroundings—an appreciation for the great and hate for the bad. Many people, it seems, simply pass through the medial space in a trance-march en route, as if applying to continue onto the next destination. Think about the walking paths of marching; think about the passing people; think about the bricks and stones of the buildings and the grass, yo! Think about the lamps at night and the stairs and the computer and the pen and the typewriter, for holy the typewriter!
All I’m saying is a little spiritual consciousness—that is a consciousness of that which lays directly behind the veneer of all things—would slow things down when they’re on a roll; it would make life doper when it’s down from failures in the classroom and on the Street.
“Can’t Stop I from drinking mai tais with Ta-Ta!”
This quote is a good ol’ two-parter!
I do understand, however, why one might not appreciate one’s surroundings while one is walking to the dining hall, for the food is so good! Surprisingly good! I’ve had pizza at 97 percent of my meals, and I’m not sick of it yet. The donuts, the fruit, the French fries, the water—oh, the water—the plentiful pre-cut vegetables, the crazy cakes, the veggie burgers—they all amass to one massive nut! There really is never a shortage of good food, and this has wowed me.
I do understand, however, why one might not appreciate one’s surroundings while one is walking if one is walking with a friend, for friends are so good here! It is alarming how nice people are—like ring-ring-ring, you know? But seriously, I was shocked, and still am, over how kind and open and chatty students are at Princeton. Yeah, sometimes they’re miserable from too much work, but all they want to do is tell you about it. And, especially as a Freshman, one’s peers are willing to journey to any dining hall to have a communal dinner, for love of novel friendship and aversion to loneliness. People do want to hang out, like Jigga’s Ta-Ta, and this is a great thing for one to experience.
I shall forego the obvious application of this quote, for posterity’s sake (this is a pun)!
Jay says: Joel,
“You can’t knock the hustle”
And he is right. To a certain extent, I can’t knock peeps’ respective hustles, for we are all hustlers. I’ve said some stuff, and I believe it—
“But let’s not stray from what I came to say to my beloved”
Princeton is a really really awesome place—I actually love it—especially for college, the purpose of which, we should not forget is to learn in the classroom. Oh, grateful am I for parents sending to here Joel. Anything negative about it—of which there are certainly tons—is not an eternal negative; it is a challenge. These issues of diversity and mechanical marching (especially in Dillon) are issues, but they are not damning, and they are not immoveable. And my thoughts, which I’ve recorded here spontaneously, are not immoveable, for this is only one semester from eight, and I am only human. Princeton shall change, and I shall change. These are my reflections.