Most students have taken at least one class in McCosh 50. But how many students have taken all of the classes offered in McCosh 50? In a setting where so many different courses are taught daily, what would it be like to experience everything this dusty room has to offer? What would a person learn, confined to this one lecture hall for the duration of their collegiate career?
These are the questions that I set out to answer on Thursday, April 7, when I spent the hours of 8 am to 4:20 pm in McCosh 50. Leaving my seat only to go the restroom, I stayed in the back row of the lecture hall for the whole day, including lunchtime. I had done no research beforehand: I did not know when each class would start or what they would be about. In short, I knew nothing. But maybe these classes would teach me something. About academia. About myself.
Over the course of the day I took extensive notes about my experiences. These notes have been transcribed below:
7:57AM – I walk into McCosh 50. Confoundingly, there are already two girls in here. Why are they here so early? I take a seat near the back of the hall and get ready for a long day.
8:01AM – A third girl walks into the lecture hall. What’s her story? All of us are just wandering souls in an empty city of lies. Looking for something. Will we find it in McCosh 50? Only time will tell.
8:05AM – Two more girls walk into the hall. It is currently Girl City up in here.
8:07AM – Three more girls enter. Girl City grows in size. Soon it will be a metropolis.
8:08AM – Niiicce, the dudes are getting here! Two bros enter. One sits next to me; I give him a roguish wink as if to say, “what’s with all these ladies?” He doesn’t reply.
8:10AM – Three more girls enter. What class is this anyways? “Girl 101: Introduction to Ladies?”
8:15 – 8:20AM – More people file in. The class is getting pretty full. There must be an 8:30 lecture in here. I still do not know what this class will be about.
8:21AM – A series of people whom I assume are preceptors walk in. They begin to untape a box. It finally dawns on me why people got to class so early.
8:22AM – “I’ll start passing out the exams,” says the professor. No. Noooo. This day has already gone awry. For the first time I begin to wonder: Is this a dumb thing I’m doing?
8:24AM – I pick up an exam and sign the honor code on the front. I still wonder what class this is. I fear that I have not studied enough. I put away my laptop as I sadly consign myself to my fate. For the next hour and a half I will have to write my notes for this article directly on the exam. And somewhere, far away, a clock ticks on towards the inevitable abyss of eternity.
8:31 am – Apparently this is a MOL 214 midterm. This is not good. I’m an English major. My only science background is Bridges.
8:37AM – What the hell is a polymerase?!
8:47AM – I cannot answer a single one of these questions.
8:58AM – Ha, the girl in front of me is only on question 12. Meanwhile I’ve already drawn the Eye of Sauron on every page of this exam. Who’s failing this test now?
9:26AM – I cannot answer a single one of these questions.
9:36AM – The girl with a scrunchie three rows ahead of me is erasing her test like a fiend. Ya done messed up, scrunchie!
9:47AM – I feel bad for making fun of scrunchie girl. At one point in our lives, haven’t we all been scrunchie girl?
9:59AM – As the test finishes, I quietly repress the previous hour and a half of my life.
10:00AM – Alright, time for a new class. There is a whole world of Princeton I have never experienced.
10:03AM – The lecture is entitled “The Problem of Evil in Muslim Traditions” — what class could this possibly be? Religion? Near Eastern Studies? I feel like a modern day Sherlock Holmes on his foolhardiest case yet.
10:04AM – Oh, cool, we’re getting a guest lecturer: Hussein Rashid. I clap loudly as he goes on stage.
10:08AM – Professor Rashid is doing some sweet crowd work with the audience. Jokes and such. I like this guy.
10:22AM – “If God is good, then evil is merely the absence of God.” I nod my head knowingly as if I have been in this class the whole time. I stroke my chin surreptitiously. I am a master of disguise.
10:33AM – More jokes. Rashid is on fire! Haha! I laugh a bit too loud. The girl next to me furrows her brow. I wonder if she knows I don’t belong in this class? Where do I belong?
10:47AM – I’m already getting tired.
10:48AM – Why did I do this?
10:54AM – The next class is called “Hustles & Hustlers.” I think I’ve heard of this one. At the very least, the title of the class is giving me a second wind.
11:04AM – Is this a Mafia class? Do they offer that here?
11:05AM– I think this is a class about the Mafia.
11:06AM – This is definitely a class about the Mafia.
11:10AM – Why is everybody just sitting here, not freaking out that this is a class on the mafia? Why is everybody not just like, “Whoa, we’re learning about the Mafia.”
11:16AM – This teacher is awesome. She just said, “want me to answer that?” when someone’s phone went off. Step aside Hussein Rashid, there’s a new king of comedy in the McCosh 50 chuckle hut.
11:30AM – Apparently the Mafia is selling contaminated food to wholesalers. I am disquieted. If we cannot trust the stores that sell our children food and beverages, what can we trust in this broken world? Who can we trust in this broken world? Ourselves? God?
11:31AM – No one.
11:32AM – Prof just said “shit” in class. She ain’t messing around!
11:42AM – Huh. Apparently most restaurant-served calamari is pig rectum. Gross.
11:44AM – This class is kicking Rashid’s divinity lecture in the teeth.
11:53AM – Lunch time. For the first time since 8 am, McCosh 50 is completely empty, save for me. It is now time for a moment of quiet reflection on the day’s events. Did I know that I would learn about God’s divine justice and pig rectums today? No. Life is full of surprises.
11:55AM – I open my Lunchable. Ham and cheddar cheese. I wonder if the Mafia has contaminated this product. No, I decide after a lengthy pause that extends for seconds and centuries.
11:56AM – I eat my first cracker stacker.
12:01PM – I walk on stage and lecture for a few minutes about the nation’s convoluted immigration policy. The hall is still empty.
12:03PM – Three tourists walk into McCosh 50 and see an unkempt senior eating Lunchables alone in an empty lecture hall. Welcome to Princeton!
12:16PM – Ah hell yeah! The blackboard cleaners are here! Finally!!! They got a huge bucket full of water and dreams too big to fail! Clean them blackboards, boys! Clean them blackboards!
12:18PM – Ok, all cynicism aside, their technique is actually kind of cool. They move the blackboard while keeping the squeegee stationary. It’s the small nuances that really reflect their dedication to the form.
12:26PM – Shit yeah, those blackboards are clean, yo!
12:32PM – I don’t think there’s gonna be another class in here for a while…
1:06PM – I hate this.
1:40PM – Is it raining outside? I’ve been in this classroom for far too long. I have forgotten the feeling of the sunlight on my skin. The contact of human friendship. McCosh 50 will subsume me.
1:58PM – I’m very bored. For perhaps the thousandth time this day, I wonder why I did this.
2:06PM – I hate this.
2:14PM – People are filing into the hall. I’d assume there is a 2:30 class.
2:21PM – I wonder what this class is about? I hope it isn’t anything math related.
2:24PM – No! The professor is drawing a graph. Noooo!
2:30PM – No! “Introduction to Microeconomics.” I already took this class 3 years ago! If someone wanted to look at this article from a thematic perspective, being here actually kind of makes a nice retrospective for my entire college career. I should take this time to reflect on some of my previous life experiences and see how they shaped me into the complex person I am today. But, like, in a more immediate sense… this is dumb af, yo.
2:56PM – Pareto Efficiency? More like Pareto Deficiency amiright prof?
3:16PM – I hate this.
3:20PM – Just an hour until I escape from this self-imposed hell. Kill me.
4:04PM – The class is empty once more. Kill me.
4:17PM – I hate this.
4:19PM – Kill me.
4:23PM – I am depleted. My body has been corrupted; my spirit has been broken and subsumed by the vengeful spirit of Lemuel McCosh (I’m just assuming his name was Lemuel). Finally, after a bitter 8 hours trapped in the same location, I throw away my empty Lunchable box, pack up my things, and leave. And for the first time in my life, I truly know what it means to be free.
In retrospect, did I learn anything from this experience? Yes and no. I learned that you can’t just “wing it” on a molecular biology midterm. I learned that, according to Islamic theology, mankind is “evil” insofar as he has a marginal propensity to forget God. I learned that the Mafia is jank. I learned that there is nothing more tragic than remaining for two and a half hours in an empty lecture hall, sadly eating pig rectum Lunchables while the fresh rain settles on the campus like fairy dust.
But, in experiencing everything that McCosh 50 had to offer, did I truly experience everything Princeton had to offer? A better writer than myself would argue that our Princeton experience cannot be condensed down to mere classwork, and that we lose sight of what’s truly important if we stay trapped in the self-imposed prison of academia. But I’m not one for saccharine poignancy, so instead I’ll end by just saying that those blackboard washers were an unexpected high point of my day. Not just because they were consummate professionals, but because they stood as a reaffirmation of our own humanity in the midst of this cold, concrete jungle that we call home.
Why is that? Did their ribald humor serve as a marked contrast to the otherwise lofty ostentatiousness of the hall? Or, in cleaning the blackboard, did they (in their own small way) imply and reinforce the infinite academic potential of a blank slate?
Nah. Their squeegee game was on fleek.