Following is a transcript of the Class Day talk given by Jackie Bello ’09 on June 1, 2009.
Congratulations! The committee has reviewed your application and has admitted you to the Class of 2009. Your exceptional academic accomplishments, extracurricular achievements, and personal qualities impressed the readers. We are pleased to be sending you this splendid news, and especially to be welcoming you to Princeton.
Remember the day you read and re-read this letter?
For some of you, your parents affirmed the acceptance without either your permission or knowledge. For others, you were excited to meet fellow students who were just as over-achieving and awkward as you are. (… Still are.) But for most, you were generally pleased with the acceptance and prepared to leave Exeter. I mean Andover. I mean Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a Governor’s School of Northern Virginia.
There were many things I did not know about my future Princeton career when I first received this letter. I did not know that a classmate of mine would come home one night from the Street and take a pee on his laptop, thinking it was the urinal. (He told OIT it was lemonade. Shhh.) Nor did I know that a naked sophomore would knock on my door at 5 a.m. one night and demand his clothes back; I had never seen him before in my life, but I remembered Princeton’s motto of service, and handed him two empty trash bags. He actually made leg holes. Now that’s what I call ingenuity.
When I received this acceptance letter, I did not know that a professor would dock me points my freshman year for citing the wrong Bible. I cited King James in a paper when apparently it was New Revised Standard. Who knew? After that, I just started citing Yahweh. (That’s when I decided to become a religion major.)
Yes, four years ago, when I was a freshman – OK, let’s be honest here, it was five, I’m a fifth-year senior – who’s counting? Parents, congrats that I’m not your child! … Hi Mom. Regardless, I did not know that Princeton would take me to Athens to study ancient Greek theater or take me on a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain for my senior thesis. Where will Princeton take you?
For all of us, the epic journey of college has reached its destination. What will you remember about the trip?
Your first sunny lawn parties. Your last rainy lawn parties.
Your Dean’s Date all-nighters.
The first time your jacket got stolen from Terrace.
Reading the course packet cover-to-cover. Skimming the QRs.
The hungover Sunday brunches. The weekday breakfasts you never woke up for.
Where you were when Barack Obama got elected president.
The lectures in McCosh, the bonfire, Bent Spoon cupcakes …
The second, third, and fourth time your jacket got stolen from Terrace.
It’s details like these that made Princeton the unique community that we all, for the most part, loved and cherished. But on a personal level, how will you remember Princeton? Can you sum up four years into just a few sentences? Or a single adjective? Some of your classmates have tried.
Tyler Crosby said “privileged.” Beyond money or opportunities, Tyler is just amazed that his parents dropped him off for four years in a Gothic castle with the most interesting kids of his generation and free beer.
Parker Henritze said “unanticipated.” When Parker arrived her freshman year – four years ago – she couldn’t have predicted winning an Ivy title in women’s volleyball with an undefeated league record or, much less, surviving four years of Wednesday nights at TI.
Sara-Ashley Bischoff said “priceless.” I’m sure many of the parents in the audience would disagree.
Aaron Schneider, a computer science major, said “sleep-deprived.” .... [long pause] Sorry for the pause, I just thought I’d give him a chance for a quick nap. Good morning, Aaron! Welcome to Class Day.
Jon Feyer said “broadening.” For Feyer, Princeton was defined by its “sense of unlimited opportunity – a sense created not only by the idealism that naturally arises from the wealth of exceptional resources at our command, but also by the naiveté and arrogance that come as a necessary corollary to the achievement of what we are told is our shared vision of success.” Feyer, who truly belongs at Princeton, will be escaping to the Kingdom of Bhutan next year, a nation which measures Gross National Happiness.
Steph Burset said “ridiculous,” and here, I have to agree. The number of people here who are brilliant in academics, love to go out, are All-American in sports or Mock Trial, sing, dance, play the ukulele, study freeganism, write musicals, start a capella groups, and discover miscalculations in supercollider detectors – well, it’s just absurd. That’s right. You people are ridiculous.
Finally, Kait MacNichol said “wonder.” This is not an adjective.
So yes, your Princeton experience was privileged, unanticipated, priceless, sleep-deprived, broadening, ridiculous, and … wonder. But above all, it was yours. What you have accomplished, explored, and created since receiving that acceptance letter is yours, and no one word could ever truly describe that. By now, you might have received new letters to begin your next journey, and as you prepare to leave this orange bubble, take a minute to reflect on your new acceptance letter and all the letters yet to come in your life.
Achievement does not come from these letters alone, but what you make of them. Make the most of your letter and all the letters awaiting you in the future.
Dear Nobel Laureate
And also make the most of the letters you will write.
Dear parole officer
This trip may be over, but the real journey has just begun. Maybe Kait MacNichol was right to describe our experience with the word “wonder.” The years we spent at Princeton were our wonder years. The narrator of The Wonder Years sums it up best in the closing monologue of the series finale: “Our past was here, but our future was somewhere else, and we knew sooner or later we had to go. Growing up happens in a heartbeat: One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone, but the memories stay with you for the long haul. … And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back with wonder.” Thank you.