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Princeton is so much more than schooling

I sat to write this column, my final in this paper, and drew blank after blank. There is simultaneously so much to say about my time at the University and no good way of saying it. We run out of time; we all must leave. This thought, not a purely sad one, created in me a sense of nostalgia. I was tempted to convey these melancholy sentiments here and then felt gross. My final column was not going to resemble a fifth grader’s farewell address to elementary school as his first traces of pubescent emotion settle in. So desperate for inspiration, I asked my friends advice as to what I should write about. The first piece of advice I got was to compose for twenty uninterrupted minutes a list of my most memorable experiences. Most of them had to do with some form of mischief, drugs or sex. Although I do believe rules are meant to be broken, tastefully, I figured my parting words should not advocate breaking the rules. Limits are meant to be pushed, and the sanctity of doors that say “don’t enter” ought to be breached from time to time.

My list did shed light on the fact that my time at Princeton has been about so much more than schooling. Princeton is very much about experiences outside the classroom, adventures that we have to create for ourselves. This thought is not new, and in turn I did not want this to be the subject of my final piece. So I thought about providing other pieces of advice to future Princetonians. I would let them know classes are important, our professors are amazing and our peers are our most important resources. Again, gross. These thoughts are not unique, and so the advice is not helpful. Maybe I ought to write not about my time at Princeton, but what it means for that time to be ending. After all, only a senior has insight into the road’s end.

So if Princeton is not just about schooling, what does it mean for it to end? It is clearly not about fulfilling credits and being handed a paper recognizing that completion. When Princeton ends, what begins?

What is graduation? To walk out FitzRandolph Gate 24 hours before commencement would not deprive me of my distinction as a Bachelor of the Arts. There has to be significance to the robes, the scepters, the marching and the Latin. Graduation, I suppose is a ritualized transition ceremony that makes something mundane quite profound. We are not just done with credits; we are entering a new phase.

At this point in my musings I discovered I didn’t have much to say about Princeton ending. So, I thought, perhaps this article should be about that which lies beyond the Orange Bubble. I took a job a couple of days ago; would folks like to know how that feels, to be an employed adult?

What do I know about adulthood? I thought about the substance of my newfound maturity; it seems to be about shifting from consumer to a producer. All my life I have consumed people’s time, money and efforts. Graduation seems to usher in a time where I am responsible for myself and for contributing to the productivity of the world. This is a nice idea, but I could have done this all while I was at Princeton. I could have worked, produced and have taken more responsibility. So what changed? I am now forced to do normal things I had simply not done because I didn’t have to? So perhaps my insight into adulthood isn’t that profound either.

This article then captures the fact that there is so much to talk about, but so too there is not much left unsaid. It feels as though something momentous and life-changing is happening during graduation, but perhaps it’s really a supremely common experience.

Perhaps it is appropriate then, instead of waxing philosophical to spend my time thanking those who have stuck with me these four years. I don’t know who all of my readers are, but I am grateful to them, and in some perverse way even love them. And if you haven’t stuck with me these four years I still thank you for bearing with me for these 800 words. Random musings can be hard to get through. Thank you to my various editors who gave great insight and put up with my often last-minute submissions. Thank you to the friends and family who constantly and consistently helped me come up with column ideas. I could not have done this without their support.

I will miss this place and the people in it. I guess it is tough to articulate that, but not everything needs to be said out loud. Goodbye readers. Goodbye Princeton (Ha! As if that were possible with yearly reunions). Goodbye 17 years of schooling.

With an eye toward the future: I wish The Daily Princetonian’s opinion section nothing but the best!

Aaron Applbaum is a Wilson School major from Oakland, Calif. He can be reached at applbaum@princeton.edu.

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