The moment Alex Barnard ’09 stood to accept his Pyne Prize at Alumni Day, you could see the smiles and hear the twittering of alumni sitting at the luncheon tables across Jadwin gym. Barnard is not, he acknowledged, a typical Princeton student — a fact alumni surely divined from the spiked yellow Mohawk hairstyle worn incongruously above his suit and tie.
Reunions traditions emphasize the commonality of the Princeton experience; Alumni Day this year celebrated the differences within what is shared. Barnard received the Pyne Prize along with fellow sociology major Andy Chen ’09, who, among many other activities, is a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender peer educator. Chen spoke movingly about how sociology has taught him about the capacity for empathy, and that “progress only happens when we recognize that we have fears” and overcome them.
Listening to Barnard and Chen, and witnessing the delight of everyone in the room, was gratifying. As both seniors pointed out, professors supported their unconventional activities — including Chen’s posters for social causes and Barnard’s research on the “freegan” movement, in which he occasionally searched through Dumpsters to find discarded foods and goods. As a sophomore, Barnard requested permission from Associate Dean Thomas Dunne to mount an animal-rights protest in which he would smear himself with fake blood and wrap himself in cellophane. Dunne’s response: “How can I help?”
“People have this image of Princeton as an elitist country club, an institution populated by cookie-cutter people, an institution without a place for people like me,” Barnard said. Later, as he told alumni of his love for the University, his voice broke. “From the shoulders up I may not look like I belong here,” he said, “but my heart is all Princeton.”
Marilyn H. Marks *86