Column | Feb. 10
Recently, I think I’ve finally come to terms with the exclusive nature of just about every part of this campus. I will always have reservations about the highly competitive, highly selective nature of the Princeton community. But I’ve convinced myself not to hate this quality so passionately anymore because I can’t hate this without hating Princeton itself. Princeton is filled with extremely talented people, so it is understandable that most people will be exceptional at something. However, nobody is exceptional at everything, and everybody learns that one way or another. Unfortunately, this difficult process is often exacerbated by the pervasive ritual of publicly announcing others’ success through pick-ups.
Obviously, this came to mind amid the ever so relevant Bicker process that has engulfed the sophomore class over the past few weeks, but really this extends beyond just the eating clubs. In fact, I remember first contemplating this ritual my first few weeks on campus. As a naïve freshman who had just experienced a week of being told I was special and welcome in Princeton, I skipped merrily (OK, maybe just walked) through the aisles of the activities fair, blissfully imagining myself doing all of the wonderful things that everyone assured me I would need no experience to audition for. I landed on a cappella. I sang in musicals before, so, of course, I had a leg up on all of those non-experienced freshmen. After being rejected by multiple groups (I really shouldn’t say how many), I felt ashamed of thinking that I was talented enough to audition for such amazing groups. While I was admittedly naïve, the worst part by far was seeing what seemed like all of my hallmates being publicly and loudly accepted into their exclusive groups while I turned up my music and pretended not to care.
What is the purpose of pick-ups? Is it to make new members feel welcome? There are plenty of ways that already exist to assimilate new members that don’t include such overtly public displays. The purpose is clearly to announce to outsiders the fact that these individuals have made it through the process. They have survived the rigors of selection and have been deemed worthy, and everyone must know about it. Ironically, some non-selective groups such as sign-in clubs have pick-ups, but this isn’t how this tradition started. Nobody cares if your next-door neighbor signed up for the chess club (actually, that too is probably highly selective at Princeton).
I’m beginning to sound cynical — probably because I am. Everyone is entitled to be proud of his accomplishments, but at what point does celebration cross the line and become just plain rude? Unfortunately, real life isn’t so unequivocal, and no referee is going to throw a yellow flag at Ivy Club’s door for excessive celebration while the members parade around campus. However, there is a clear distinction between wearing that Princeton T-shirt you love and literally screaming as loud as possible to announce your accomplishments to the world. Granted, it’s not you who’s screaming. It’s the other members who are accepting you, but that’s just an excuse to justify an obnoxious and often hurtful ritual — not to mention that it is disruptive to everyone within a five-mile radius.
Admittedly, I’m biased in many ways aside from being personally hurt by this process. As a rower, I have spent many years now in a sport that is unusually antiquated in the way that it handles success and failure. After a race, when you and your teammates lie in agony with burning muscles and blurred vision, you find a way to ease over to your opponent, win or lose, and squeeze out a breath to say “good race.” Not that sportsmanship is absent from other sports, but rather celebration is much more frowned upon, almost taboo, in this sport. This view of sportsmanship has found its way into most things I do in life because I try to remember that my own success often comes at the expense of other’s failures.
While I may be cynical, I know that learning to deal with rejection is essential for coming to terms with yourself and feeling happy and fulfilled. Nobody can be great at everything, and most people find themselves falling short at some point in their life. But asking people to deal with rejection by shoving everyone else’s success in their face is insensitive and rude. This administration openly acknowledges a very prevalent sense of inferiority that most people experience when they come to the University (impostor syndrome and all that jazz). They have devoted a ton of resources to promote mental health and reassure the student body that, yes, you do belong here, even if it is hard to realize that sometimes. Yet, somehow nobody has thought to question how we obnoxiously praise talented individuals at the expense of those of us who have fallen short. Oh, you got into diSiac Dance Company? Congratulations! I am honestly happy for you, but a little humility would be appreciated.
Christian Wawrzonek is a sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.