Opinion » Column | Oct. 2
In last Tuesday’s paper, columnist Barbara Zhan took note of the changing expectations of work from elementary school to college and beyond. While mistakes in elementary school were overlooked and teachers often graded assignments based on perceived level of effort, in college, Barbara said, “Professors don’t look at long essays and think about how long it took to write, they just look at the content. If it’s terrible, so will be the grade it receives.” She connected this to how extracurriculars and interviewers search for the accomplished and even how Princeton housing fines students for forgetting their prox.
While I agree that in college academics and some extracurriculars that “It’s not about how hard you try,” Barbara overlooks the significant freedom that we have here to make mistakes in other areas.
There is a joke that my friends and I have that “there are no consequences at Princeton.” Aside from the obvious exception of breaking the Honor Code, Princeton — like most colleges — has very few rules.
If you throw a party in your room, Public Safety is more likely to come by about noise complaints than anything else. Want to stay up late watching reruns of HIMYM, while work goes undone? That’s fine. Feel like staying out until 4 in the morning, or not coming home at all? Nobody will stop you. You can eat like a pig, or forage like a rabbit, or become an omnomnomivore without someone telling you about three square meals or the importance of eating vegetables. At college, you have the ability to drink yourself into oblivion, go to McCosh to sober up and still your parents will be none the wiser. Which is not to say you should drink yourself sick or spend all night watching TV.
The argument here is not that you should go crazy with all the freedom; it’s that Princeton — for me and for many who I’ve talked to — isn’t all about stricter standards and heightened expectations. It has been more about exploring who I am and what I’m comfortable with outside of the 8 a.m.-3 p.m. high school schedule.
Yet, the stricter standards for academics and the looser standards for social conduct are not so different. They are both about transitioning from high school to post-graduation, whether that be graduate school, employment, marriage or a combination of the three. In academics, as in internship searches or extracurricular selections, more is expected of each student. “It is not about how hard you try” because it won’t be about how hard you try once you graduate. It will be about the results of your efforts, whether you labored over a report for hours or whipped it up in 30 minutes.
Similarly, in non-academic areas, you are responsible for your actions. You are moving from a time in which you lived under your parents’ roof to one in which you will have the freedom and responsibility to craft your own life. Having the freedom to do that in college, and to make mistakes along the way with fewer consequences, is part of deciding what type of rhythm you want to your life.
While Barbara makes a good point that Princeton work expects more from students by making standards harsher, she ignores the fact that social life also expects more from students, except this time with fewer rules. She makes it seem as if the standard that “it is not about how hard you try” is a negative aspect of leaving secondary education instead of a function of accepting greater accountability for your actions.
I prefer the college life to high school where, as Barbara says, “sometimes completing the homework was enough” because my work carries both more weight and more worth. Sure, the bad grades and harsh comments are not easy to see, but I have been pushed at Princeton to improve my thinking, writing and speaking in ways that I had never been before. And I prefer the college life where I am responsible for getting myself home safe every night, for how healthy I eat, for how I budget my money and for all of the other inconsequential decisions that add up over time. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my time here and will make plenty more in the next two years and beyond. That’s why I’m here. In short, “it is not about hard you try,” and it shouldn’t be.