When Princeton sent its students and staff home because of COVID-19 in March, I took the usual things from my office. My laptop. My copy of the AP Stylebook. A reference book about Princeton that I often use in editing. That was all. I assumed we’d be back in two weeks, if not days.
Nine months later, I’m still at the tiny desk in our guest room, the floor littered with old copies of PAW and alumni magazines from Cambridge and New Haven and Philadelphia; a pile of mail that I’ve picked up on brief weekly visits to campus; pencils, printouts, proofs. We’ve had to change how we do a few things so that PAW continues to land in your mailbox, which wasn’t always easy. But we’ve adapted, and chances are, so have you.
Each year, we devote the January issue of PAW to one theme. This year, we chose the theme of resilience, an idea inspired by the pandemic but not constrained by it. Princeton alumni and students offer examples of personal resilience: Suleika Jaouad ’10, in the life she built after cancer (page 42); Sophal Ear *97, in creating a stellar academic career tied to his early life as a Cambodian refugee (page 30); current undergraduates who offer their experiences coping with disappointment and imperfection — and what it takes to bounce back (page 25).
We explore resilience of other kinds, too. Princeton professor Miguel Centeno writes about the planet’s resilience and why it’s so urgent (page 18); David Walter ’11 contributes a story about the architecture alumni who are helping neighborhoods sustain themselves amid threats of climate change (page 34).
There are stories of resilience everywhere we look. Students will return in the spring to a changed environment, but one that continues to challenge their hearts and minds. Restaurants on Nassau and Witherspoon streets invested in heat lamps and outdoor dining; some have enjoyed a brisk takeout business. Labyrinth Books built up online ordering, scheduled in-person browsing, and moved its events online. Some of Princeton’s oldest alumni have embraced Zoom, reaching classmates who were unable to travel to events even in good times. In the most difficult of seasons, these alumni made their community even stronger.
On page 22, Peter Severson ’09, an alumnus of the Chapel Choir, writes about the loss of group singing. His essay is about music, but it seems to me that it’s also about maintaining that sense of community, even as we sit each in our own guest room or den or kitchen. Peter includes a group song made by Chapel Choir alumni who couldn’t gather for Reunions last spring, the members contributing their parts from their homes. It’s worth hearing. The piece is beautiful, and not just for its musicality. It’s the powerful, comforting sound of people who have come together and grown. Resilient.