To the editor:
In last week’s Fifth Column (“Why Princeton students are like flowers,” November 7, 2008), Sabrina Berkowitz made an interesting argument: often Princeton students are like flowers, both physically, because we wear heavier clothes in winter, just as flowers harden and shrivel up, and figuratively, because we have “created our own little garden on campus.” Berkowitz did not believe, however, that Princeton students actually draw away from life during winter, a period of time when all the flowers are dead. She argued that life at Princeton is just as exciting during December, January, and February (even March), and that the Street still has great parties during these months.
I believe that sections of her argument are deeply flawed. The main problem seems to be that Berkowitz glosses over many of the hardships that flowers face, thus also glossing over many of the hardships that Princeton students face. And while it is nice to think of Princeton students as flowers, the metaphor is, I think, a little too self-flattering (perhaps it would be apt to say, “self-flowering”).
For example, flowers really can’t move very much. While Berkowitz shows that Princeton students “seem to feel most comfortable when they’re hanging out on the actual campus, or very near by,” as evidence that Princeton students are like flowers, she fails to recognize the fact that flowers, even if they wanted to, couldn’t hang out anywhere except where they are, which is probably a garden. Princeton students may be homebodies, but I know of many people who sometimes take the Dinky into New York City on the weekends, or the bus to Trenton on Wednesdays. I’m sure flowers would love to have this mobility. I should acknowledge that some flowers, such as potted ones, and ones in window boxes, have the ability to move.
They cannot move of their own volition, however; a human being must move them.
Berkowitz also cleverly chooses to ignore the pollination season. It is here that the flower metaphor may be rendered most accurately, but also most controversially. During springtime bees fly toward flowers and land on them. Then the bees take some of the pollen from the “male” part of the flower, and then bring that “male pollen” to another flower, where it is deposited onto the “female” part of the flower. This is what makes flowers reproduce. I won’t even try to address the fact that flowers have two kinds of genitalia, while most Princeton students only have one kind.
Also during springtime, Princeton students begin their own kind of pollination season. Girls deposit more pheromones into the air than usual, and boys try to deposit their “male pollen” around the school, like dogs that pee on their territory. The atmosphere is exciting. Both girls and boys doll themselves up and lay out in the sun, just as flowers unfurl their beautiful petals and continue to lay out in the sun, like they always do. An interesting question is: are boys like flowers, or are they like bees? I think it is safe to say they are like both of them: they both carry “male pollen” (like the flower) and deposit it (like the bee).
I do wonder why Ms. Berkowitz spent so much time discussing winter, when it is in spring that the flower metaphor is realized most effectively. Nevertheless, we must wonder whether the flower is a little too beautiful an object to reflect the character and appearance of Princeton students. Life in academia is hard, and Princeton students are tough and able to withstand pressure. This is unlike flowers, which can’t even withstand their own kind of pressure, like the kind that comes from lawn mowers. Maybe we should think of Princeton students as other things instead.