Columns » Opinion

Incomplete and halfway done

In her April 11 column “Ordinary people,” Morgan Jerkins tries to remind us that in spite of the distractions of an overwhelming workload, extracurriculars and the general stress that comes with being a Princeton student, the University allows us the chance to interact with world-renowned scholars and academic legends. She reminds us that while we are hustling to the next place we have to be, we often forget that we’re here — if only for just four years — at an incredible university.

Now, I’m not trying to sell Princeton to all the prefrosh out there who are still deciding; after all, I certainly didn’t when they were here, checking out the campus during Preview. On the night of Preview, I remember getting ready to walk out the doors of the U-Store, carrying my grocery bag of Nutella, Singapore noodles and Red Bull — clearly ready for the horrendous all-nighter that would follow.

Unfortunately, in my rush to leave the U-Store to get back to my room, I got stuck behind a group of prefrosh. They were all excitedly discussing the classes they had audited and how they liked their hosts. As they conversed and slowly exited the building, all I could think was, “life is not nearly long enough for them to be walking this slowly.” But in the process of mulling over how much I had to do and everywhere I had to go, I had completely forgotten where I was.

When I see McCosh Hall, I don’t see the gorgeous building, the beautiful courtyard or the impressive chapel flanking its sides. I see the 1:30 p.m. class that I’m obviously going to be late for, because I had once again turned in an assignment late on Blackboard, and the minutes were counting down until I would get 30 percent of my grade docked off. When I see my dorm building, the historic Witherspoon Hall, I don’t see a place that had once been described by Harper’s Weekly as “one of the most commanding college buildings in the world.” I see the room I have to clean, the room that contains a pile of textbooks and notes, and the room whose windows don’t always have the best insulation.

I find that, regardless of where they came from or what socioeconomic background they grew up in before attending this institution, many students eventually manage to find a laundry list of flaws in their experience here. While many of these complaints are valid — some even acknowledged by the University in its programs of improvement — I find that being “used to Princeton” makes me forget what Princeton meant to us when we had first come here.

The worst part of it all is that many of us who have already been here for a year or more almost seem to think that it’s better that we’re “jaded”— that we are somewhat superior for figuring out what Princeton “really” is, when compared to our younger peers who haven’t yet. But if we really think about it, why is this at all desirable? Shouldn’t we admire the students who manage to find something extraordinary about their college lives every day, as we once did before we let essays, midterms and finals eclipse this enthusiasm?

There are many things about Princeton that make our experiences here worthwhile, and it’s not just the solidarity between students that comes from complaining about grade deflation. After all, even now, I believe and certainly hope that many people wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  We can almost definitely count on finding dependable friends for life, discovering new passions in theater, a new language or at an internship in the south of France, having the chance to engage with professors who can teach us lessons beyond books, and counting on an everyday certainty that we’ll be going to a class that had an impact on somebody’s life. Surely that’s something we can deliver to the hopeful prefrosh before decisions come out.

I’m almost a junior, and soon I’ll be halfway done. I have junior papers, senior thesis and many a difficult departmental left in my major. I am sad to say I have made my experience sound incomplete or almost unsatisfactory by complaints like “I can’t believe all the washers are filled; I hate everyone on this floor,” or “I really hope this class has some nonconcentrators, otherwise I’m screwed,” or “Why aren’t there more bus routes throughout campus?” I certainly hope I can shed these nitpicky criticisms, lest I leave this place with the regret that I didn’t appreciate it more while I was here.

Isabella Gomes is a sophomore from Irvine, Calif. She can be reached at igomes@princeton.edu.

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