Ode to Princeton
Odes to Princeton is a collection of short stories submitted by current and former students with reflections, feelings, thoughts, and questions about Princeton
- We started this as a way to reflect and say good-bye to the campus we called home for 3.75 years and were forced to leave so suddenly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that this site will be used as a way to reflect on and celebrate our favorite Princeton memories.
- My friend and I LOVE the New York Times Modern Love Column! We love their bite-size, emotion-filled, and incredibly specific Tiny Love Stories, “Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words,” which inspired the medium of this reflection.
- I felt pretty bummed about missing graduation until my mom made me listen to Shankar Vedanthan’s commencement speech about rites of passage during a pandemic as we did the dishes one day in May. I really resonated with his point that graduation celebrations are important rites of passage that encourage humans to actively reflect on the past and gear up for the future. He says: during times like these when the world is unsteady, we can take this as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Though we didn’t get that physical and temporal moment to reflect as a class, this inspired me to attempt to jointly (and virtually) reflect with my classmates, and hopefully learn about myself in the process.
Guidelines for Submission:
- Each submission should be ~250 words or less. While we will consider longer submissions, we would prefer if people would keep them short (similar to the NYT’s Tiny Love Stories column).
- Current submitters must be Princeton students from the classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.
- Submitters must submit their Princeton email addresses to the form when they submit, but their stories can be published either under the submitter’s class year only OR the submitter’s initials and class year.
Since these are anonymous submissions, we are unable to give credit :(
The night before I left, I went for a walk around campus to say goodbye to all of the places that had come to mean something to me throughout the 3.75 years that I called Princeton home. I walked by the dorm building that I’d moved into on the first day of freshman year, and recalled the shy, quiet girl that I’d once been. I wandered down towards Forbes and smiled at the memory of the day that I’d met the two girls that would become and remain my best friends throughout all of the ups and downs of college life. I traversed back up campus, and reflected on all the time that I’d poured into certain extracurriculars that had helped me gain confidence and develop a strong circle of wonderful friends. I wandered past a certain building, and was struck by a memory of the first time that I had done well on an academic assignment and finally felt like I belonged academically at Princeton. When I passed by a specific bench, I remembered the night when a boy had told me, for the first time in my life, that he liked me because I was beautiful and intelligent. I finally ended my long walk in front of Nassau Hall, and recalled one final memory: the first time that I had visited Princeton, I thought that it seemed like a pretty amazing college that anyone would be lucky to attend. Five and a half years later, my feelings haven’t changed.
After my sisters’ boyfriend drove off in his pickup truck, my sister pulled me aside. “Stop talking to him like he’s your thesis advisor. We’re only in high school, remember?” In my defense, I had tried to be friendly and engage in pleasant banter, but that quickly spiraled into me asking his opinion of whether or not IoT security should be open-sourced. Is it unreasonable to dive deep into the substantive stuff? For the last 3.75 years, I’ve been encouraged to look for the nuance, question the cannons, and venture to offer my own opinion and argument. To me, being an undergraduate at Princeton means embarking on a quest for the truth. To be an undergraduate at this liberal arts institution is to be fueled by an insatiable curiosity. As one writing center fellow put it, “Ask why? And then ask why again.” Now that I’m back home in Tennessee far earlier than expected, robbed of those final months of the being in the Orange Bubble, I can’t help but attempt to recreate precept at my kitchen table. Maybe urging my sister’s 17-year-old boyfriend to think deeply about the societal implications of insecure technology is a bit unfair, but I can’t help it. I’m a Princetonian.
“You were the first person on my list of people to get to know better this semester,” Jared said as we were filling up our drinks at Club Night. I was so surprised and honored that my red plastic glass completely missed the lever, spraying sparkling water on my hand. Of course, I’m uspet that COVID-19 was so rude to rob me of my grand finale, Commencement, Reunions, Houseparties/Lawnparties, and Thesis pictures, at Princeton. But, I’m most devastated that the spontaneity of meeting the most inspiring and some of the most meaningful people had been snatched away from me all of a sudden.To me, what makes Princeton so so special is the people, and my closest friends were not people who I sought out. They were people and experiences that just happened.
I met my two best friends at club tennis pickups and our first night out was at Ivy (blissfully unaware that our social chair was able to snag 30 passes); my former boyfriend through a group chat as a pre-frosh in person at the Ice Cream social, beside that 2020 ice sculpture (still have no idea how it didn’t dissipate into a puddle); my partner in crime with all things E-Club at a Jane Street event right before freshman year (I remember purchasing a bright orange dress to wear at that conference because I was so excited to be a Princetonian); my co-founder through our first TigerLaunch meeting (where the commented on my tropical svedka rainboots); two future bridesmaids (I may not know to whom I will say “I do,” but met two of my future bridesmaids during a summer of eating hummus in Tel Aviv); my “zee” group in the 2nd floor of the Forbes New Wing (where we would study every night before eventually migrating to the d-hall); my first friends under a starry sky on OA; my pset buddies in class (remember Fabio’s goat problem on the MAT 201 midterm?), Office Hours, and Lab TAs; my mentors and role models at the Silver Tables in First (who I would TigerBook to make sure I didn’t get coffee with the wrong person); and so many more people who I am eternally grateful to have bumped into serendipitously at Princeton.
The Orange Bubble will always have a special place in my heart because of the people who defined my experience. While I’m crushed to know that I won’t randomly run into friends in the C-Store at midnight, I’m thankful for everyone I’ve met through Princeton.
The last week on campus this year, a club I’m in had a sudden last rehearsal of the year, and a last rehearsal with our seniors. Our show was cancelled, we weren’t rehearsing for it anymore, we were rehearsing for ourselves. I looked around at everyone as we played our final piece together and saw myself learning it, two years ago, less than a month since coming to Princeton.
I’ve tried to figure out how the shyest kid in high school learned how to make friends so easily here. My best explanation now is that we’re different people. Princeton didn’t give me a fresh start, it was *the* start. I tend to forget everything that’s happened before getting here, not just because I’m a very different person now, but because I don’t really identify with whoever I was before. This place let me lift a facade I had built in order to fit into the circles of people I was friends with back home. Then I made some friends here and started feeling like I didn’t actually have any back there, save for one or two here and there.
Like a week in, during an orientation activity, someone who had known me for a week, when asked to describe me with one word, dropped ‘unique’ on me. At the time I would’ve never imagined that. It’s not like I didn’t like myself before coming here, I had just never been appreciated by other people for qualities outside of being good at school. For the first time here I felt funny, passionate, genuine, unique. I felt loved. And could actually connect with people.
When I joined that club I was so quiet the current members thought I’d get scared and leave. After we said goodbye, before everyone left, a senior stopped me, asked me to kneel, and crowned me the loudest player in the group.
This place gave me permission to be the person I was so scared to expose to the world. It hasn’t been all good all the time, but if two years here can beat by far the other eighteen, I gotta say I love this place more than I thought I could.
I’m still on campus right now, in an empty dorm in an empty building. Can’t wait to come back to Princeton.
In the few months that I’ve gotten to spend at Princeton, I’ve come to realize that it truly is not the perfect place I thought it was when I committed. Everyone is stressed and exhausted. In my personal experience I’ve come to a place where I’ve never been more stressed in my entire life and I’ve never felt so dumb and insignificant. I’ve seen many friends develop a reliance on alcohol, no longer partying to party but partying to forget their responsibilities for a few hours. However, as low as these lows may be, the highs here are even higher. Everyone is going through the same thing. Everyone is supportive as they can be. I’ve truly grown as a person and I have Princeton to thank for that. I’ve begun to form a network of friends I can rely on and am truly grateful for all the happy memories and new experiences I’ve gained so far. There is no place I would rather be than Princeton and am truly going to cherish these next three years on campus.
Why we didn’t pursue it:
- We posted our mission statement + submission form on the 2020 class facebook page to gage organic interest and only got two anonymous submissions :( This might have signalled a few potential things: either missing graduation had happened too reenelty to elicit these responses and people needed more time, that people (for whatever reason) didn’t want to share their odes to Prinecton, the medium of a tiny love story wasn’t a good fit, etc.
- Anyhow, we decided that there were too few submissions to publish, but we are grateful that this project motivated us to pause and reflect on why we loved our Princeton experience.
- But hey, if you made it this far, we hope you enjoyed reading these and are inspired to write your own :)
This piece was co-authored with my friend (who wishes to be anonymous). Big shout out to the anonymous submissions :)