On a sunny spring afternoon in April, Whig Hall was filled with more than 100 seniors, many still in post-thesis recovery, who came to learn about something that will be a constant for the rest of their lives: filing taxes.
Economics professor Harvey Rosen’s tutorial on “The Personal Income Tax” was the first of the Last Lectures, a two-week series for seniors to hear some of Princeton’s most popular lecturers before graduation.
“I promise Professor Rosen will make this inherently boring topic very interesting,” said Dan May ’11, a co-chairman of the Last Lectures.
Directing students to the handouts, Rosen said, “Let’s start with the tax returns of a typical American family.” Laughs echoed across the room as students realized that they were looking at the Obama family’s tax return, which Rosen proceeded to explain number by number, interspersed with a few investment-banking jokes.
“Only Professor Rosen could infuse so much humor and anecdotes into a tax return,” said Claudia Solis-Roman ’11, who was planning to attend as many of the 11 lectures as she could. The series, she said, is “a great chance to hear many of my favorite professors speak one last time.”
In addition to academic lectures, the series offered talks on practical topics like cooking and apartment-hunting. “It’s a bit of looking back and looking forward,” May said.
With Commencement less than six weeks away, the senior-centric element of the series was a large part of its appeal. The lectures were also an opportunity for professors to impart pearls of more personal wisdom to the senior class.
“Don’t think that you have to have clear plans,” said philosophy professor Alexander Nehamas at the end of his lecture on “Nietzsche: Intention, Action.” “Let yourself go,” he said, adding that when he was a young man, he thought he would become a ship owner.
“Nehamas puts into action what philosophy is all about: how to live your life,” Devin Kennedy ’11 said. “As seniors start new lives, we begin to ask, ‘How do we know who we are?’ ”
The lure of Lawnparties
By Carolyn Edelstein ’10 GS
Students balancing trays of glistening Jell-O vodka shots wove among the crowd in Tower Club’s front yard as Hey Champ wrapped up its set. The Chicago-based electro-rock band was back for its fifth show at Princeton on May 1, the cloudless Sunday of spring Lawnparties.
Other Lawnparties performers may balk at the sight of the pastel and floral print-clad audience, but Hey Champ was prepared for the spectacle — two of the three band members are alumni. Drummer Jonathan Marks ’05 was a member of Tiger Inn, while keyboardist Pete Dougherty ’07 dined at Terrace Club.
Marks and Dougherty met in Forbes College as underclassmen, and their music collaboration began with performances at Terrace. Dougherty, who wrote a junior paper on electronic music and composed three string quartets for his thesis work, joined the band once he had his diploma in hand.
Lawnparties have changed little since Marks and Dougherty graduated. They are still a chance for students to mingle along Prospect Avenue without the usual restrictions of membership, guest lists, or brightly colored passes. They still call for students to dress in outrageous interpretations of Ivy League prep.
Because of the event’s accessibility and hype, Lawnparties are a rare trip to the Street for many graduate students. Some are fans of the performers, while others — intrigued by the tradition and curious about Street culture — seek out the perennial beer-tossing and ’80s cover bands. The concerts are among the few social venues at which the two student communities mix.
The headline concert featuring rap artists Big K.R.I.T. and Wiz Khalifa at Quadrangle Club, however, was not entirely inclusive. Those graduate students who arrived before a 4 p.m. deadline were given wristbands for admission, but once the concert had started, only undergraduates and their guests were admitted.
“It was embarrassing to be turned away,” said David Mitchell, a first-year M.P.A. student who arrived in the requisite polo shirt, but late. Said another student, sporting madras-print pants: “It’s subtle, but it’s still one more way that we find ourselves on the outside.”