Members of the freshman class — and this year, sophomores as well — marched through FitzRandolph Gate Aug. 29 for the traditional Pre-rade as upperclass students, employees, family, and alumni cheered them on. The buzz from the crowd on that hot summer day was reminiscent of pre-COVID days. Students laughed with one another, gathered for a barbecue across the lawns in their various colorful residential-college T-shirts, and locked arms on the steps of Whig and Clio halls for the traditional Step Sing.

“Princeton seems like a magical place so far,” said Le’Naya Wilkerson ’25, reflecting on the event-filled day. “Everyone seems super-friendly and supportive of one another, so I’m looking forward to the school year.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Opening Exercises commenced with remarks from President Eisgruber ’83. “It is so good to see you and so good to be together,” he said. “I have missed these moments of collective joy and excitement over the past year.” The start of this academic year marks the first fully in-person semester for the classes of 2024 and 2025. 

On a personal note, Eisgruber shared that five years ago he was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, a type of noncancerous brain tumor that can cause loss of hearing, balance, and control of facial muscles. He connected this challenging time to the challenges that students will likely face at Princeton, and offered lessons he has learned from dealing with his diagnosis. 

“The quality of your Princeton education will depend on your willingness and ability to participate in conversations about sensitive and difficult ideas,” Eisgruber said. “You might not need to discuss anybody’s life-altering medical diagnosis, but you will certainly need to talk about profoundly important and emotionally charged topics such as race, sexuality, and justice.”

Carrie Geisler ’25 found the ceremony to be inspiring. “It was just really a sense of hope after everything that has happened with COVID,” she said. It suggests “that it’s really a fresh start here, that things are going back to normal,” cementing the promise “for everything that the next four years hold.” 

The pandemic continued to shape parts of campus life, with masks required in classrooms at the beginning of the year and a weekly COVID testing program in effect for students, faculty, and staff. Public-health concerns also affected small-group orientation programs, limiting experiences to daytrips and on-campus activities instead of the typical extended trips. The Class of 2025 participated in Outdoor Action, which included hikes and kayak trips to build trust and relationships; Community Action, which included service trips to shelters to connect with the local community; Dialogue and Difference in Action, where students discussed and explored their identities; and a fall-sport athlete orientation led by upperclass student-athletes. 

Members of the Class of 2024 also had an opportunity to make up many of the bonding experiences they missed. In addition to joining the Pre-rade, the class had its own Step Sing, an ice cream social, and a skate night at Baker Rink, among other activities through mid-September.

Students appreciated the experiences. “I actually liked staying on campus during orientation because I was able to not only connect with my CA group, but also my roommates,” said Maia Weintraub ’25. “I also liked how we were finally able to get a feel for campus.” 

But group leaders noticed some drawbacks. “The new structure made it much more difficult to foster group dynamics,” said Outdoor Action leader Alex Kim ’24. “I would argue that the depth of these connections did not match those of a typical frosh trip.”

Members of the Class of 2024 were simply excited to be back for a more typical semester. Julia Kashimura ’24 lived on campus last spring, and she is relieved to have more Princeton experiences available to her this fall. “I’m on the golf team, so I’m excited to finally compete,” she said. “Also, just to meet people, because we didn’t get to do that last semester as much, and just see the insides of the buildings because we also didn’t get to do that.” 

Princeton welcomed graduate students from 54 countries during orientation events on Aug. 25 and 26. Graduate students participated in a handful of events, including panel discussions, a celebratory meal, and welcome remarks from Eisgruber and Cole Crittenden *05, acting dean of the graduate school.

By C.S. with reporting by Hannah Kapoor ’23