Freshman Essay Contest Winner

Marc Rosenthal ’71

Highpoint Pictures

In a new writing competition, PAW and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) invited freshmen to reflect on their first two months on campus and respond to the prompt: “What stands out about your experience?” Submissions were judged by representatives of the University Press Club, the Nassau Lit, ODUS, and PAW. The winner was Allison Huang ’21, a Daily Princetonian opinion columnist.

Shivering, we cling to the Brooklyn Bridge’s side railing in all our unbalanced, precarious glory, hearts unsettled by a thousand speeding cars hurtling by beneath us. From his shopping bag, Daigo unravels layers of clothes he bought just hours before: a scarf for himself, a parka for his roommate Alex who, ill-prepared, wore only a gray sweatshirt with “Princeton Tigers” blocked out in white letters on the front. It was “low-key” enough to go out in public, Alex had explained, which drew our minds back to the bright orange blazers we saw alumni wearing during our first week at Princeton — apparel that, in contrast, screamed “Princeton!” 

Fair, we think to ourselves: A muted gray was far less obnoxious than bright orange, though no one gave it a second thought on the Princeton campus, where the blending of school colors into one’s wardrobe became an initiation of sorts. It was only a matter of time before you succumbed to buying that bright orange scarf, or bright orange hoodie, or those bright orange socks that ran up to your knees. It was only a matter of time before you ran out of clean laundry and began to wear Princeton apparel — your last resort — religiously, sporting bright orange four, five days in a row. 

It was only a matter of time before you succumbed to buying that bright orange scarf, or bright orange hoodie...

We vacillate further in the dark, enjoying an unchanging pearl-dotted skyline in silence. This was our comfort: After living together on the same floor, seeing each other in everything from ratty nightwear to bright red Forbes gear, we enjoyed each other’s company even unspeaking. This was a fragment of the group (most had gone home for fall break) that snacked together, had cheese tastings together, and worked on general-chemistry problem sets together. I didn’t know until two weeks in, after stealthily stalking their Facebooks, that my fellow “Zees” were valedictorians, school presidents, national virtuosos. For me, there was only us: adventurous, fun-loving, completely odd, us. 

“Who’s hungry?” I ask after a few starry-eyed moments have passed. “I’m craving pizza.” “We should get some famous NYC 24/7 pizza,” says my roommate Vrinda, who, despite being from Florida, knows the area better than any of the rest of us (including myself, a relative local). We are approaching midnight, magic hour. I open Yelp and begin searching for pizzerias still open near 34th Street-Penn Station, our ride home. “Here’s a good one,” I say, “Pizza Suprema.” 

In my mind’s eye, I dream of hot crusts, red sauce, and oozy cheese. I had not believed my Princeton tour guide when she claimed that “food is the way to the college student’s heart,” but food had become truly relevant to me at Princeton, especially in the week of midterms when study break after study break brought us out of our rooms and into each other’s company. It was not food, but Food: the breaking of giant Wa cookies and the back-and-forth passing of Cheetos bags, sustenance shared in the intimate space of the fourth floor of Forbes. 

Slowly, collectively, we gather our things and leap down from the railing. The city is still wide awake; shadows pass in and around my feet. I loop my arm through Vrinda’s and fix my eyes on Alex and Daigo as they lead the way. We flee down the bridge back the way we had come. Back to Princeton, back to home.