OPINION: Finding meaning


You would think the author of an essay titled “Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League” would get a chilly reception in a room of Princeton students. Many of us, however, found ourselves applauding Bill Deresiewicz’s arguments last week as he and Joshua Rothman discussed the book from which the essay is excerpted, “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.”

On Monday, Cameron Langford deftly defended Princeton from the charge in the first part of the book’s long-winded subtitle — and the University is indeed working to salvage a liberal arts education from the trends Deresiewicz notes. But, as Rothman argued both in a response to Deresiewicz’s essay and at the panel, it is nearly impossible for a college to help us with that second part — the meaningful life. How can we, the products of years of frenzied preparation for college, hope to suddenly find meaning once inside the FitzRandolph Gate?

We are universally driven, universally busy and universally good at jumping through hoops. What we lack, Deresiewicz argues, is something that is systematically beaten out of us in the obstacle course to college. We cannot take risks or make any choices that do not bring us closer to the goals we have allowed to be defined for us.

The damage to creativity and introspection is crippling. The need to make an experience “count” shades everything. Readings can be interesting, but it’s hard to immerse oneself in their intricacies and take tangents while keeping up with the syllabus. Peers, professors and alumni can be invaluable friends and fonts of wisdom — but all interaction is, to some extent, networking. For me, every weekend trip, every protest, every introspection gets crammed into an 800-word ‘Prince’ column. All of life is focused on moving toward one of a handful of careers — chosen mainly for their qualities as low-risk moves to the next level — and none is focused on finding meaning.

Oh, we can rationalize our timid choices. The fledgling doctor wants to save lives, or at least that’s what his parents always told him. Cameron applies to consulting jobs merely as a temporary hiatus from “saving the world.” But if we were really choosing freely, would more than half of us, as Deresiewicz points out, end up on one of four paths — finance, consulting, law and medicine? MCATs, LSATs, GPA cutoffs and internships represent familiar gates to familiar-looking prestigious paths. That Princeton’s “alternative” career fairs are simply defined as excluding finance and consulting shows we have lost perspective.

There are exceptions: those who have rejected the hoops. I have a friend who, rather than joining a campus music group to exercise and justify his passion for drumming and music, brought friends together into his own group to do what he wants. When I asked if he felt Princeton pressing him toward an elite definition of success, he was indignant. Somewhere during freshman fall (perhaps under the influence of MAT 215: Honors Analysis), he had decided to stop caring, in the least nihilistic way possible. “I don’t know where I want to be in five years, even two!” he told me. For him, far less than any plan or goal is the feeling that he gets “knowing what [he’s] doing is right,” that he’s spreading his art and ideas.

More hopeful than the outliers, though, is that the vast majority of us moving through these hoops feel that something is missing. An operations research and financial engineering major friend told me that she had noticed her personal definition of success change. A job allowing her to support and spend time with her family is no longer enough — she has taken on her peers’ desire for a fast-paced money-and-numbers job. That this worries her shows that all is not lost. We are, despite Deresiewicz’s fears, capable of and willing to question ourselves.

For now, then, I’m looking carefully at the hoops I choose. There is nothing wrong with moving toward conventional goals, as long as we do so for the right reasons. For me, inertia and praise were the wrong reasons to keep writing for the ‘Prince.’ Even before Deresiewicz’s talk, I had informed my editor I would take a temporary leave from these pages. I want to live my life without my opinion-columnist blinders on, ever stuffing my life into 800 words. More than that, I want time to think — not as a student or as a columnist, but as a human soul. I have also decided to take a semester abroad this spring. With luck, Europe will do for me what the University has stopped doing — allow me to take stock of my commitments and beliefs.

I don’t know where I’m going from here. I still like writing, and I still like solving problems. Moreover, I maintain my drive to know. I’ll probably still go to grad school. But that decision — and any decision I make during or after — will be made deliberately. We must live mindfully and refuse to let inertia and expectations pull us through life, or we can hardly be said to have lived at all.

Bennett McIntosh is a chemistry major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at bam2@princeton.edu.

Fleury ’12 dies in motorcycle accident

AJ Spenser | Daily Princetonian Archives

As a player, Fleury wore No. 41.

Otavio Fleury ’12 died Sept. 21 in a motorcycle accident in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He was 24.

Fleury was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and moved to Oswego, Ill., when he was in the sixth grade. He studied civil and environmental engineering during his time at the University and played on the football team. After graduation, he had been working in Vietnam for Tractus Asia as a business consultant.

Head coach of the football team Bob Surace ’90 said that Fleury was a crucial player: He was not only an exceptional punter, kicker and holder, he said, but also one of the best representatives of the team.

“The best representatives are usually by the fences,” Surace explained, saying that Fleury was perfect for the job. “Whenever a visitor, somebody from the media or alumni come by, they’re the ones to welcome them. He had a great personality and great sense of humor, always welcoming.”

When asked about other aspects of Fleury’s personality, Surace said he could easily imagine Fleury sitting in a dining hall with anybody, starting a conversation and making friends.

“We didn’t win a lot of games when I first got here,” he added, “but he always made [his teammates] laugh and put things in perspective, so we could move forward and work harder.”

At the end of the 2010 season, Fleury was ranked third among Ivy League punters, according to Go Princeton Tigers.

Brendan Sofen ’15, a member of the football team, said Fleury was passionate about helping others.

“When I was a freshman, just coming in, I was struggling with my kickoffs,” Sofen said. “He stayed after practice for a week straight and critiqued my form. He truly wanted me to succeed, so I could help the team.”

Sofen added that Fleury not only showed him how to thrive in football and academics, but also pushed him to go above and beyond and do his best.

Victor Prato ’15, also on the football team, described Fleury as a mentor who made an extremely positive impact during his first year at the University.

“I remember specifically as a freshman, I was an engineer and he was an engineer, and I was having trouble,” Prato said. “Every time I spoke with him, it made me feel better about what I was doing.”

Fleury was particularly interested in energy and conservation, and loved to travel, Sofen said.

His family could not be reached for comment.

Fleury’s funeral mass is scheduled to take place on Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick Catholic Parish in Washington, Ill. Visitation will be on Oct. 1 from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. at Dieterle Memorial Home in Montgomery, Ill.

OPINION: Accepting rejection


’Tis the season to be rejected.

The acceptance emails and rowdy pickups have maxed out now as student organizations across campus take their pick of the deliciously talented cornucopia of applicants. Egos inflate and implode as students experience the high of finding themselves wanted or the crushing reverse scenario. Freshman roommates navigate their first major relationship obstacle when the lucky one gets serenaded in his room by the same a cappella group that just rejected his new friend. Basically, there are a lot of feelings right now.

As a senior, there’s a strong and obnoxious urge to sit back and laugh smugly at the whole process. I’m fairly well set in my commitments at the University, and anything added to my schedule this year will be in the form of open groups or activities not requiring an interview and a love letter to the organization in order to participate.

Still, watching the process from the sidelines has been making me think a lot about the breadth and depth of the rejection experience at Princeton, not least because I have several good friends who are on the sending or receiving ends of that unpleasant, polite little message informing students that their extracurricular organization of choice has no room for them at the moment: “Sorry, and see you at auditions next year.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against selectivity in student groups. Certain kinds of organizations need to have standards and vision to maintain excellence, and the members who make up their ranks are specifically chosen with the objective of perpetuating the particular character of that group. Besides, the culture of rejection forces many Princeton students to face the fact that they are not desirable to every campus group relevant to their interests, and that kind of humbling revelation has the potential to be very good for us.

I say “potential” because Princeton students often deal with rejection in less healthy ways. We have a tendency to take rejection as a heavenly sign of our incompetence or failure in a specific area and subsequently drop the hobby completely. As Princeton students, we have been programmed to value exclusivity and judge merit according to its ethos. If we weren’t, we might not have found the University so appealing in the first place, and we certainly wouldn’t go around gleefully quoting the school’s changing acceptance rates every year. We worship exclusivity and frame our judgments of ability around a sharp dichotomy of “in” versus “out.” As a result, when the powers that be (student boards, play directors, etc.) inform us that we’re not what they were looking for, we treat their decision like the ultimate verdict on our talent. I’ve seen it happen again and again. Students dedicate their high school careers to a specific extracurricular that probably played a central role in their applications to Princeton, only to discover that their years of experience and passion mean squat to the voting members of their favorite theater group. Result: They give up the passion.

Competitive student groups, however, are not the only option. They’re simply the most attractive one to the kind of person who has been conditioned to believe that acceptance equals validation. There are communities and events that cater to the specific interests of students who were not accepted into the better known clubs on campus. The Princeton University Band and Lobster Club Improv Comedy are the most celebrated examples, but there are many others slipping under the radar: Sister Speakers: Women’s Open Word, the juggling club and Rise Up, to name a few. These no-audition options often go unexplored because they lack the prestigious and validating authority of an exclusive organization. Once the gods of selectivity have spoken, too many Princeton students decide there’s no point committing time to their writing, playing or acting in any forum.

A student who was turned down from Tiger Capital Management, the University’s student-run investment fund, quoted a line from his rejection letter: “This does not reflect on your accomplishments or your investing knowledge, but rather on our organization’s current needs.” This is a pretty classic rejection trope. It might be read as courteous diplomatic garbage — and maybe sometimes it is — but, as often as not, the “It’s not you, it’s us” line is actually true with regards to campus extracurriculars. There are enough talented students at Princeton that groups with limited membership and specific ideas about the kind of image they want to project cannot accept all applicants. If you love dance, don’t let rejection from one or even three selective companies rule it out of your life. Dig around for alternative options that don’t require auditions, and, if none suit your needs or taste, start your own. Otherwise, you’re letting an apologetic email nullify years of commitment to an interest or talent — and that is failure in the true sense of the word.

Tehila Wenger is a politics major from Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at twenger@princeton.edu.

Music: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at Eisgruber Installation Ceremony

grace-potter-nocturnals-2012_wide-1e467870c33f57a97933889e9f496aecea4d887f-s6-c30By Amy Garland

Who knew Eisgruber was such a rock fan? Today, Princeton students received a rather formal email announcing that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will be performing at incoming Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber’s installation ceremony on September 22nd. These guys have been in the game a long time, but are definitely a recent radio favorite with their hit, “Stars” (also featured on The Voice). Princeton should get ready for an unusually rockin’ ceremony.

Hit the jump for the scoop on what is shaping up to be Lawnparties pt. 2, minus Aaron Carter and the prep-mockery, plus some minor but necessary formalities. 

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Trace amounts of banned A-Rod found in Princeton

Sports Editor

Photo by NY Daily News.

Embattled probably-still-future MLB Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez and his girlfriend, Torrie Wilson, stopped by Princeton on Saturday, presumably on the way to meet with one of Rodriguez’s attorneys, according to the NY Post. The Yankees third baseman, whose 2013 season has been made a nightmare by nagging injuries and the Biogenesis scandal, reportedly toured several of the campus’ notable buildings and visited the baseball and football fields.

No word on the exact purpose of the visit, although it’s possible that A-Rod was hoping to get Mike Ford’s autograph.

Or maybe it was a college visit. With the MLB ready to hand him its longest ever non-lifetime suspension – which would even ban him from playing in Japan and Korea – he may be considering using his expected increase in free time to go back and finally get that college degree. Although Rodriguez has missed the deadline to apply for the Class of 2017, he could certainly help his chances of getting into the Class of 2018 by donating a new stadium or three or by pulling some strings with influential Princeton grad Eliot Spitzer ’81, with whom he purportedly shares at least one mutual friend.

Although I’m sure he enjoyed visiting the place where they filmed A Beautiful Mind, and he would be all but assured a starting spot on the baseball team (or really any Princeton team), it isn’t likely that A-Rod will want to attend an institution with an honor code – he may, however, like the way they do things over at Harvard.

Mamoun’s to grace Princeton in the fall

Managing Editor

Praise be, the hegemony that the Frist food gallery has long held over Princeton’s late-night drunk-munchies market appears at end: according to the Times of Trenton, legendary Greenwich Village falafel joint Mamoun’s has announced plans to open a location at 20 Witherspoon St. in the fall. As any one of the scores of Princetonians who have spent summers interning downtown could tell you, this changes everything.

Photo by Flickr user roboppy, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo by Flickr user roboppy, licensed under Creative Commons

Mamoun's on St. Mark's. Photo by Flickr user moriza, licensed under Creative Commons.

Mamoun’s on St. Mark’s. Photo by Flickr user moriza, licensed under Creative Commons.

Prices appear to vary according to location, but across the restaurant’s New York City, New Haven, New Brunswick and Hoboken sites, vegetarian sandwiches ballpark at around $3 and meat sandwiches at around $6. A mango juice will cost around $2-3, which you’ll definitely need if you do Mamoun’s right and drizzle their house hot sauce all over your sandwich of choice. As keen observer of the human condition and Yelp reviewer Andrew S. puts it, “BEWARE the spicy sauce is spicier than anything I had in other countries.  Maybe it’s because I’m white, but if you don’t have an iron-clad digestive system, make sure you have pepto bismal [sic].” After years of performing such gastronomic feats as consuming buffalo chicken tender pizzas — with fries! — at the tender 2 a.m. hour, I think the collective student body is ready.

Google Maps says it's a 9-minute walk.

Google Maps says it’s a 9-minute walk.

INTERSECTIONS: Reunions Music Preview – Friday

5wv6acgvdmmweak1hqobh30xwgo9lygAt Reunions, even if you were to try and hide yourself away in the tallest Gothic tower, the music always follows you. That thumping bass and those cheesy 90’s dance music remixes (including a lovely rendition of Ciara’s “One, Two Step” and Sisqo’s “Thong Song” I heard last night) are truly the pulse of the weekend. Apart from the late-night dancing, however, different organizations and student-groups have put together some awesome performances and interactive opportunities. Read on to see what’s happening today in music!  Continue reading