A new president greets a new class, Princeton’s most global and diverse

Freshmen raise their voices at the Blair Arch Step Sing.
Freshmen raise their voices at the Blair Arch Step Sing.
Beverly Schaefer

In his first formal address as Princeton’s president, Christopher Eisgruber ’83 told freshmen gathered for Opening Exercises that he remembered many aspects about his first week on campus 34 years ago — but the president’s opening address was not one of them. 

“You might think that it would be depressing to me, as I sat down to write my first ceremonial address as president, to recognize that few if any of you would remember anything that I said,” he said. “But in fact, I found it rather liberating.” 

Eisgruber urged the 1,291 students in the Class of 2017 to take to heart the message of Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, which he asked students to read before their arrival as part of the “Princeton Pre-read.” Eisgruber related the essence of the book to Princeton’s Honor Code and to students’ search for a larger purpose for their lives. (See page 16 for more on the Pre-read.)

Members of the class, which is more diverse, more international, and more selective than any before, said they enjoyed the tone of Eisgruber’s talk. 

Ryan Miller, from Orange County, Calif., joked that he already did not “remember a thing” but added: “He got across the message that it wasn’t his speech that was most important, but the principles at Princeton that will stick with us.” 

“It was nice to see that the president had a sense of humor,” said Solveig Gold.Gold, a self-proclaimed “city kid” from New York, was one of 712 class members to participate in Outdoor Action’s 40th year of breakout trips that sent students backpacking, rock climbing, biking, and farming. 

Another 158 freshmen took part in Community Action, a service-oriented alternative. Anna Walker, from Flowery Branch, Ga., volunteered with her peers at El Centro, a Catholic community-resource center in Trenton. “We learned a lot about immigration and education,” she said. Another program, focused on criminal justice, reflected a shift in Community Action toward providing students with a foundation for civic engagement during their time at Princeton. 

Following Opening Exercises, the freshmen paraded out of the Chapel and in through FitzRandolph Gate in the annual Pre-rade. Welcomed by cheerleaders, the Princeton University Band, and older students, the class enjoyed a barbecue and a Blair Arch Step Sing, relishing the warm September evening before the start of classes. 

“I’m so happy to actually live here now,” said Gold, who sported a tiger tail during the Pre-rade. “I was blown away by the fact that we can call this our home for the next four years, and for the rest of our lives.”