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Is Princeton a selfish endeavor?

We often speak about the importance of thinking outside the Orange Bubble — what about popping it?

Our four years at Princeton produce many memories: lunches with friends, late nights in Firestone Library, learning and growing from different extracurricular activities and sports. Our time here sometimes seems too long, but it’s simultaneously escaping us quickly. With finals quickly running away from us and summer quickly running toward, I find it important to reflect on why we are here running along the racetrack of undergraduate studies. I ask myself: Is Princeton a selfish endeavor?

I am my own devil’s advocate because I am indeed an undergraduate here. However, it’s important to question why we are here and what we will do with the gift of a Princeton education. Four years is a long time to study; four years is a short time to make a difference. If we believe that a Princeton education is “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations,” what do others expect of us, and what do we expect of ourselves after graduation?

The financial crisis has certainly shifted what an undergraduate degree can mean. According to Career Services, in 2006, 50 percent of employed Princeton graduates were in the financial and insurance sector. In 2009, the number cut sharply in half to 25 percent. This is not to argue that those who pursue a career in finance are not contributing to the nation’s service in other ways. Of course, those who make money can (and do!) certainly give it away to charities — but what if our Princeton minds, rather than our checkbooks, were used to solve problems of unfair systems?

The Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative program is an interesting Princeton-centric solution. According to the program website, “There is a critical need within the U.S. government for the most talented, dedicated young people to step forward to help tackle the increasingly complex challenges, domestic and international, that will face our nation.”

The Thiel Fellowship is another solution. Eden Full ’15 took time away from Princeton to pursue and perfect her SunSaluter organization that “helps solar panels follow the sun, while providing clean water.” While The New York Times implied that Full was not returning to Princeton (although she did), her two years away allowed her the time and space to create something with potential for incredible good.

Education is privilege. College is privilege. Princeton is privilege.

I therefore contend that a Princeton education is selfish, at an undergraduate or graduate level, if we take this education and do not use it for others.

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