(Following is the Class Day talk given by Becca Foresman ’10)
We’re here. It’s that time of year when – reliable as the clockwork of Shirley’s Satan-powered pre-frosh weekend weather machine – it occurs to you that Princeton life is like a Technicolor re-do of the Garden of Eden, plus J-Crew loungewear. It occurs to you at 2 a.m. as you charge pizza to the magical card that gives you unrestricted access to six all-you-can-eat dining halls, 10 convertible mansion/food-court/nightclubs, and a castle-sized Quickie-Mart featured in the opening montage of the TV series House. It occurs to you as you stand in the dorm hallway, dripping and naked in your towel, waiting for the public safety officer, who looks like a nicer version of your grandfather, to unlock your door. It occurs to you as you happen upon a multi-cultural event that involves sitar-playing rock stars, moderate pyrotechnics, inexplicable funding from the classics department, free T-shirts, and aggressively distributed sacks of kettle corn the size of hefty toddlers.
But as your caller ID flashes “Mom,” it also occurs to you that all the evolutionarily viable offspring are walking out of Eden’s Fitzgerald Gates employed, or a Rhodes scholar, or designing robots that fight AIDS and hug people.
“Hi, sweetie, it’s Mom. How are you? How’s the search for next year going?”
“Well … I got into this school in Paris.”
“Ooh! What’s it called?”
“L’Ecole Jacques Lecoq.”
“Coq, Mom. Coq.”
“Oh. Well, what do they teach?”
“Clowning. I’m going to be a clown at the coq school.”
My application was inspired by the summer before senior year, when Princeton decided that clowning classes were legitimate thesis research and, with an affectionate ruffle of my hair, funded a trip to France to study with Philippe Gaulier. I don’t know what either I or Auntie Princeton was expecting, but the classes were like American Idol, only all the competitors wore gaucho pants made of bamboo linen, and there was only one judge: like Simon, only shorter, fatter, and French, beating a small drum, and making absurd demands such as: “And now … you pretend to be … washing machine. You shut up! DO IT NOW!” Philippe’s was a pedagogical method based loosely on Robespierre’s Reign of Terror.
Yet, despite the thoughts of escape via defenestration that his classes inspired in me, a wonderful thing happened. I embarked on the worst imitation of a washing machine known to man and, as Philippe launched into his habitual flood of slander, I became unhinged. The “true me” unleashed itself and embraced failure, forgoing all pride and instincts of self-preservation. The result was something close to a human version of the squirrel from Ice Age as it outruns a collapsing glacier, its bulging eyes twitching to the beat of its deranged footwork.
Philippe sensed my squirrely potential and forced me to acknowledge it, to abandon the Self I thought I should be and revel in the Self I truly was: a cracked-out rodent-girl, apocalyptically stressed out and possessed by an irrational desire to hoard things. Princeton did much the same for all of us in mailing that acceptance letter, recognizing our potential and pushing us to work beyond the limits we’d drawn for ourselves. Both Princeton and Philippe knew that the philosophy of clowning is true: All the idiosyncrasies and failures that we are trained to avoid or smooth over are precisely the things that make us compelling, honest, and imaginative.
At Class Day, we talk a lot about our moments of success. It’s been a joy to watch our friends pursue their geniuses of choice here and thrive: concert pianists, walk-on varsity athletes, founders of humanitarian NGOs, and ROTC recruits who embody King Leonidas’ conception of mental toughness in a daily, 21stt-century reenactment of the film 300. We’ve celebrated our classmates wonderfully, ushering fellow thesis-writers through their caffeine-induced hallucinations to the banks of the Woody Woo fountain, where we have braved the urine-saturated waters alongside them, cheering wildly.
But can we talk for a moment about the failures? Wait ... I sense the Princeton Web site designers stamping their little cyberspace boots (how will we salvage a marketable homepage video from this??) But let’s do it anyway. We have congregated at an exceptionally high-powered institution and – instead of eating each other alive like the laser-beam-headed mackerel from Austin Powers One – we have allowed each other to risk, stumble, break, pick ourselves up, and not be perfect. I look out at you, and I see people who were gentle enough to make a place for my failures when I could not. Every one of us has done that for a friend here. You listened to him, you spoke up for her, you got him help, you walked her home. This is the place we truly learned – and taught each other – to fail for real, to help, and to start again.
But hold the violins. Let’s be real, Class of 2010: You thought this was done? Guess what. We’re all going to clown graduate school next year. Hope you took your GRE and scored high in hardcore, because shock, awe, and a job market run by psychologically dictatorial French midgets is just around the bend. But I feel like it’s fine. Why? Think about your four years here: the surmounted workload and incertitude, the Diems you Carpe-ed while flitting betwixt the boundaries of adolescence and adulthood. We are man-children, girl-women, a titillating blend of Spartan soldier and circus buffoon, alternating between sheer tomfoolery and hyper-disciplined attempts at world domination with the help of TigerNet Alumni Services.
My point? A fount of freakish strength and absurdity lurks in each of us. So why should we stop drawing from the well? Why should we live tomorrow, next year, the rest of our lives, any differently than we have at Princeton? Let’s keep surprising ourselves: Let’s not hold ourselves accountable to success and stability. Let’s try for real, and fail for real. Let’s get acquainted with our clowns. I can assure you: They’re way cooler than we are.
To the Class of 2010, the world is wide, and the laughs are ours for the taking. Carpe Ridiculum.
(Following is the Class Day talk given by Zach Zimmerman ’10)
When I got into Princeton, my mom warned me that it was a liberalizing, heathenizing institution. But I have not changed at all. I came here a conservative, Southern Baptist carnivore. Tomorrow, I’ll graduate a libertarian, vegetarian, atheist.
So while my family is recovering from their collective heart attack, I’d like to turn my attention to another family I’m part of. Class of 2010, in the words of Sister Sledge’s 1979 dance hit, “We are family.” A giant, 1,112-sibling, dysfunctional-beyond-belief family.
Four years ago, we were birthed from the majestic womb of Old Nassau. It was a very complicated Casearean section, but it worked and put us into the loving arms of our wide-eyed Princeton parents: crazy uncle Dean Dunne, who has thankfully never asked anyone to pull his finger. Our older sister Angela Hodgeman [manager of undergraduate housing], who comes tomorrow, will yell at us to get out of her rooms. Our estranged grandfather Robert Bromfield, who e-mails us even though we’ve never met him and there’s a sneaking possibility he does not actually exist at all. And, of course, Momma Tilghman. Now I know we don’t actually call President Tilghman momma, and I’m certainly not ready to sit on Dean Malkeil’s lap to learn about the birds and the bees. (Or, I guess, the B’s and the bees), but the comparison might still work. Instead of passing the potatoes, we pass classes; instead of getting an allowance, we pay tuition. Instead of not being allowed to get a dog or paint our rooms, we’re not allowed to get dogs or paint our rooms. Mom.
I guess we’re not quite a traditional family, but what makes a group of people a family isn’t how they fit into a cookie-cutter mom/dad/2.6-child mold, it’s what’s in their heart. No, not shared groupings of double-helices of nucleotide base pairs with sugar-phosphate backbones, but love. It’s not hard to look around and find someone near you that you love like a brother or sister. Some of us also have sex with each other, but for the most part, it’s a brother-sister thing we’ve got going on. I guess I’ll put that in a footnote. We are family. Minus the incest.
And like any family, there are the problem children. The kids who are graduating today without jobs and with nothing on their backs except their beer jackets. I get to keep this, right? My name’s on the tag, and … OK. As of tomorrow, I’ll no longer have a grossly overpaid campus job where I bake free cookies or pretend to look in backpacks. Instead, my only sources of income will be redeeming clippable coupons for 1/20 cent and reminding customers that the tip is not included. I do hope that Denny’s will allow me to wear my beer jacket under my vomit-green uniform. (Disclaimer: I have actively put off looking for a job in order to make these jokes. It’s worth it.)
But who needs money when you have family … with money? That’s Zach Zimmerman. Two Z’s. A bunch of M’s. I’ll be the bearded homeless man using his beer jacket as a shelter.
But despite the lack of change in my pockets, siblings of the Class of 2010, there is change in my heart. Unfortunately, landlords and heating companies don’t yet accept heart change, but I can cash it out for something: goosebumps. Little moments when your body tingles and you stare up at the buildings around you, bathing in the beauty of Princeton. Then you realize you live in Wilson and your walls are made of Styrofoam, but the goosebumps press on.
The great philosopher Stitch in his seminal treatise, Lilo and Stitch: “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Like Lilo and Stitch, we’re not a typical family here. Some of us are cute Hawaiian girls and some are short, ratlike extraterrestrials. And like any family, we’re now the sentimental, senile senior citizen, looking for meaning in Disney cartoons. In our day, we’ll harass the freshmen: We did course evaluations by hand. With mini-golf pencils. And there was no Lewis Library. We studied the sciences in cold, brick buildings like God intended (or how man intended). And when I was a freshman, we didn’t have the pop rhythms of singer-songwriter Lady Gaga. And just to get real for a second, I’m not really sure how anyone danced before Lady Gaga. I’m glad I don’t live in that world anymore.
Princeton’s changed a lot since our family went through, but it’s also changed each of us. Look how different we all look today. Bad example. But take a brief moment to undress the person to your right – with your eyes. Beneath the black jackets, our diversity shines forth. A rainbow coalition of primary-colored Ralph Lauren polos. Our journey here has changed us: from Rhianna to the Roots, from Old Butler to New Butler, from bonfire to no bonfire, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. My entire body, mind, and soul – if there is one – are grateful to have been among the most wonderful people who have helped me realize who I am, and have welcomed me with open arms into the most loving family in the world. We are family –a gayer sort with many footnotes, but we’re still a perfect family. A Perfect ’10. (I thought it important to make that joke, since there are only two other classes that can and they’re all dead.)
To my family, I love you. And to my family, I love you, too.
I can’t wait to see you all at our family reunions.