OPINION: Great expectations


Events of the past week have caused me to reflect quite a bit on what going to Princeton means. The reality of the Class of 2017 prompted me to think back over my four years and what Princeton means to me. And the national news attention reminded me about what it can and does mean to others.

There have been — and will continue to be — many responses to Susan Patton’s Letter to the Editor, addressing her message or how she made her argument. Despite how I set out, my column, too, ended up being influenced by my thoughts about Ms. Patton’s letter. I find myself annoyed with how Ms. Patton seems to have thrown Princeton’s reputation under the bus with her innocent — or not — piece of advice. So here’s one of my takeaways from the week on how we should or shouldn’t tout the Princeton name.

When Princeton extended offers of admission to the Class of 2017 this past Thursday, my senior heart took in the news with a twinge of nostalgia. Every year the news that a new crop of prefrosh have been selected, the new freshman class will be formed, forces students to remember how quickly their own time here is moving along. But — at least for my freshman through junior years — that moment of saddened or nervous reflection was quickly surpassed by the excitement for what would come next in my Princeton experience, and an excitement for new freshmen who would play into my Princeton story, and, of course, start their own. As a senior, though, it wasn’t the same excitement, no longer one for peers who would share with me this wonderful place but a more distant happiness for someone whose story I won’t factor into; I won’t be helping them get passes, or giving them directions, or advising them on room draw.

I’m thrilled for the incoming freshmen. I can’t even begin to put into words what an amazing treat they have in store. I remember being happy when I got my admission letter. I was relieved, thrilled, excited. Four years later, I realize I didn’t even have a clue the happiness, fulfillment and sheer day-to-day joy that lay on the other side of the wardrobe door I had just been invited to open. Thinking about each and every one of them, the Class of 2017, discovering all of that over the next year is a pleasant comfort as I accept that my leaving is a necessary element in that cyclical progression. But I’ll save my musings and words for the Class of 2017 until a later time, the traditional senior’s last column.

For now, I want to focus on one particular moment of my freshman year, a thought set in motion as I read “Great Expectations” for a course that spring. Just like young Pip of Dickens’ classic, I began to feel that I, too, had been endowed by a magnanimous benefactor. I had been transported from my home to a new world of possibility, thanks to Princeton. Princeton has connected us to vast resources, a phenomenal alumni network and an identity that seems to elicit attention and commentary everywhere from the local bar to the national news circuit. It is a powerful realization to think how unique and powerful that can be, something I’m reminded of every time national attention zooms to our campus.

And, as the Class of 2017’s astoundingly low acceptance rate affirmed, our place here is a highly coveted and hard-to-get spot. The identity we take on at Opening Exercises during our first-ever frosh week is lifelong; we carry it with us from the Pre-Rade to the cavalry of Old Guard golf carts. We are incredibly lucky to be given that opportunity to go to a school so nurturing and loving, to join a family of peers and alumni united not just by an association but by a diehard love of orange and black and to be constantly reminded and aided by all involved to pursue our loftiest goals. All these things play into what Princeton means to me — it has been the greatest development of my life, and I’m constantly astounded by my luck in receiving such an opportunity. It is a privilege, and it ought to be treated as such.

One of my mother’s greatest wisdoms passed on to me was that an opportunity and privilege should always be used not just to better yourself but also to help the world around you. When students or alumni use that for their own betterment at the expense of others — especially while touting their Princetonian identity — it especially hurts our little community. And it opens the door for incredibly harsh and demoralizing criticism from the broader public. Far too often, it is this latter use of Princeton’s name, network and resources that has called outside attention to our institution. Such abuses have come to flavor what those outside the Princeton community think of it, of us. It has shaped the reception we often receive when announcing our alma mater to new acquaintances or coworkers.

There will never stop being alumni who use the Princeton name and fame — even school newspaper — to advance their personal agenda; it will likely always give students a biased leg up in their pursuits beyond the Orange Bubble. But if we each make a concerted effort in our personal lives to use the advantage from our generous benefactor to help the world around us and honestly acknowledge the luck such inherited benefits play in our life, we can slowly but surely begin to change that public distrust and disdain.

Lily Alberts is an economics major from Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached at lalberts@princeton.edu.


6 thoughts on “OPINION: Great expectations

  1. She clearly intended that letter for an audience of Princeton students, as evidenced by the fact that it appeared in The Daily Princetonian (not the Wall Street Journal) and addressed Princeton women (not all college-age women). She wasn’t using her status as alumna for any “unfair” advantage in the world outside the Orange Bubble (and if that was really what you cared about, you could have found any number of excellent targets). If you must beat this particular dead horse, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms you can make directed at her letter’s style and substance. This, however, is just a cheap shot that smacks of piling on.

    • Pope Lando,

      It is not a cheap shot at all. The letter makes it very clear that Princeton students are superior to others. She even says this explicitly in interviews. The letter could have been directed to Princeton students without being elitist.

  2. Pingback: Today’s Paper: Apr. 3, 2013 | The Daily Princetonian

  3. A wonderful piece of writing (other than the nails on the chalkboard pluralization of wisdom … pieces of wisdom?) ….. thank you so much for sharing. It reminded me quite a bit of the message that Michael Lewis ’82 had for the Class of 2012.

  4. When you are married to an alcoholic dead-beat 20 years later who verbally abuses you and then makes you pay them alimony, then maybe some men will regret their mean-spirited responses to critics of Ms. Patton.

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