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An Ode To Princeton

May 27, 2014

People sometimes ask me – how was college? That question often leaves me speechless.

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Princeton, when I first learned that you had accepted me – when the silhouette of that orange tiger delightfully filled up my computer monitor as my parents and I watched, stunned, sitting in my living room in New Delhi, India – I had never seen your campus. In fact, I had never seen any university’s campus. I had never been outside my country for the first 17 years of my life. It was a huge deal – not only was I leaving my country for the first time, it was also to start off college. So as excited as I was, I started off on tip-toes, for the first couple of weeks not knowing what I was doing. In some ways, not knowing if I could even trust you. But my Princeton interviewer told me I could trust you, and the beautiful faces at orientation told me I could trust you, and Jeff Nunokawa told me I could trust you, and… how can you not trust Jeff Nunokawa? So I gave it a shot and I gave you my trust – I gave you everything I had. And I am so glad I did.

Some people compare you to Disneyland. You are more like Disneyland++. There is a high price to get in and stay in – and I’m not talking about the money. It’s the hours, blood, sweat and tears that you have to spend to even hold a candle to the competition. But there is free laundry and the grass is perfectly groomed every single morning, so there’s that.

What I am sure of though is that I had the time of my life. What I am sure of is that you’ve prepared me to handle so much of what life will throw at me.

From now on, you are the constant in my life. Whether I change jobs or move to different cities or decide to grow facial hair, you are going to be the constant. You are what ties me to my best friends. You are the store of my best memories. You are my first love. You are my young adult life.

In so many ways, you are… home.

I know that when the year ends I can visit campus, see a familiar face and it will be like I never left. I know that even though others might be living in my freshman year dorm, when I go visit my room, all those memories from freshman year will come rushing back – roommates who I became best friends with, hallmates I made lifelong memories with. Their silhouettes will emerge in the room, around the dorm, and for a brief moment I will be a freshman again. Suitcase in hand, nervous parents by my side, standing in awe of the majestic Blair Arch. A clean slate, a fresh mind looking for direction, looking for purpose, looking for something that will engage it in the most challenging way.

I know I owe you – we all do. I also know that the debt I owe you is immeasurable, just as immeasurable as the impact you have had on my life – and the lives of countless other students. How can we ever repay that debt? I know it’s not going to be money – whether it’s a million dollars or ten, I know it’s not going to be enough.

Maybe the way to settle this debt then is to pay it forward. By trying to bring in a fraction of Jeff Nunokawa’s manic enthusiasm into our everyday interactions. By being as enchanting when we tell our stories as Harvey Rosen was when he introduced four hundred students to the world of microeconomics every fall, making them fall in love. By being as passionate about our work as Brian Kernighan was when he spoke about his love for computers and programming. By being as selfless as Shirley Tilghman, who devoted years of her life to an academic institution that changed the lives of thousands of students like us. Maybe by knowing, fully and completely, that we are really not all that different from people like Woodrow Wilson, Jeff Bezos, Michael Lewis and Meg Whitman – so that we might also aspire to achieving such greatness.

Princeton, I am sure I wasn’t the smartest person to walk your campus. I am sure I wasn’t the most dazzling, the most charming, the most eloquent – in fact, I am sure I wasn’t the most anything. What I do know is that I was surrounded by the nicest, smartest, sharpest, most ambitious and the most amazing people I have ever met, that I held my own for four years, and survived to tell the tale.

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