While President Eisgruber ’83 noted that members of the Class of 2020 are entering a “season of fresh starts and high expectations,” he used his address during Opening Exercises to remind them of the problems and realities of life in the world at large.
“This is no ordinary September. This September follows a searing summer filled with loss, grief, and violence around our planet and in this country,” Eisgruber said, citing attacks in Orlando, Baton Rouge, and Istanbul as well as “a coarse, bitter, and angry” presidential campaign. “Our joy for this academic year is tempered by a fearful global society: Is it wrong to take pleasure in these [University] traditions — to savor the tranquility of this campus when so much is broken around us?”
The diversity of the student body demands thoughtfulness in everyday conversation, he said, cautioning that “events or headlines that might seem remote or abstract” could be “visibly proximate or physically painful to others at this University.”
At the same time, he noted that “we are part of a collective effort,” telling the freshmen that as they join the Princeton community, “our destinies are linked to one another in myriad ways.” By learning and working together, he said, “We can also make a greater difference beyond our campus, and do more to help communities less fortunate than our own.”
After Opening Exercises, the class — 1,306 members strong — marched through FitzRandolph Gate onto the front campus to be greeted by upperclassmen, alumni, and University employees in the Pre-rade.
Nye Underwood ’20 said that student protests last year over Woodrow Wilson 1879’s legacy had encouraged him to learn more about social-justice movements, and that he was surprised by Eisgruber’s candid discussion of the issues facing our world. “It was cool to see that the president of the University was thinking about the things that I think about,” Underwood said.
Andy Charbonneau ’20 said that amid the excitement of meeting new people, he appreciated the reality check offered by Eisgruber. “He reminded us that we are here to learn and that we are here to go out and make the world a better place,” Charbonneau said. “I was like, definitely, this is why I’m here.”
At the freshman assembly later in the day, Danielle Allen ’93, the author of Our Declaration — the freshman Pre-read book — discussed the questions her work raises about the relationship between liberty and equality in the Declaration of Independence. (See a Q&A with Allen.)
Allen emphasized that the opportunity for intellectual conversation at the University should not be taken for granted. “There are all kinds of environments where this is not happening, where there is no exchange,” she said.
Charbonneau, who plans on majoring in mathematics or physics, said he welcomes these discussions. “The people that I have talked to are all so different in terms of where they come from and what they want to do,” he said. “We want to talk to each other, and we want to find out what we all have to say.”