BY KUNLE DEMUREN
Class of 2011
My issues with the letter by Susan Patton ’77 published in this paper last Friday would fill up many pages, but for this response, I will focus on just a few. An integral part of the foundation that Ms. Patton’s piece rests on (well, besides sexism) is that once her theoretical Princetonian daughters leave the Orange Bubble, they won’t meet very many “intellectual equals”.
This very sentiment is the kind of breathtaking arrogance that gives Princetonians a bad name. This attitude is a throwback to an era in which Princeton was a place only for the long-established “elite,” so I found it extremely disappointing that an alumna who seems to be heavily involved in the University as it is today indulged in this view. This is not to say that Princeton is not a place for the elite anymore, but that elite status is ostensibly based on some merit beyond who one’s parents are. I would not claim that the University has come as far as it should in that regard, but I believe that it is well on its way.
Even if we accept that Princeton is the right kind of elite place, we should not labor under the assumption that it would be that way regardless, simply from the virtue of having been around a very long time. During my four years at Old Nassau, I met some of the most brilliant and erudite people that I have ever known, then or since. (I also saw some of those same people do some really stupid things.) However, I also know plenty of incredibly smart people who didn’t go to Princeton, or even to any school of that reputation. It should never be taken as automatic that a Princetonian is incredibly intelligent; such an assumption demeans the huge intellectual effort that we put in while at Princeton to become better thinkers. It requires agency on our part to take the chance of a Princeton education and make it mean something.
There are plenty of men and women in this world who are just as bright and intelligent as any Princeton student, and even others who are brilliant in ways that many Princeton students aren’t. Some of those people went to institutions with the prestige of a Princeton, some went to institutions with far less. Regardless, they do not deserve our scorn just because they didn’t get the chance that we got.
Whether we are evaluating someone’s dating or marriage potential, or merely interacting with him or her socially or in the workplace, a choice they made (or didn’t or couldn’t make) as teenagers shouldn’t change how we perceive them. Ms. Patton may not have intended to condescend to those who graduated from (or didn’t graduate from) “lesser” institutions, but her tone and assumptions do not really allow us to give her the benefit of the doubt.
I was only able to go to Princeton as a 17-year-old because the University offered me a substantial financial aid package. I am immensely grateful for that opportunity, and I am almost always immensely proud to be associated with such an institution. However, if the calculators had spit out different numbers, I could easily have attended a university of less prestige. If I had, I would hope that if I had met Ms. Patton’s theoretical Princetonian daughter, she would look beyond credentials on my resume to form an impression of me.
Kunle Demuren ’11