Continuing a tradition that started in 2016, Dr. Joe Schein ’37 carried the Class of 1923 Cane and led the P-rade. The award honors the oldest returning alum in the P-rade but Schein, who turned 108 on Feb. 23, is the University’s oldest alumnus, period.
The son of Russian immigrants, Schein was a state champion fencer and star debater at Newark’s Barringer High School before attending Princeton, where he also fenced, was active in the pre-med society, and organized Friday evening Jewish worship services at Murray-Dodge Hall that Albert Einstein sometimes attended. He won honors for his senior thesis on Baudelaire and was named the best French student in his class. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania medical school in 1941, Schein worked for 70 years at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, first as a pathologist and later as a psychiatrist. As a hobby, he began teaching himself Russian at the age of 106.
Schein spoke by phone with PAW about the P-rade and his advice to today’s students.
Do you remember the first P-rade you attended?
No. There was a time when it became possible for me to go, namely from a financial point of view and a time point of view. Because the years after graduation were very, very busy in medical school preparation and things of that sort. But the moment I was freed up to live what I’d say was a normal life and was free to go, from then on, I came nearly every year. But I didn’t keep a record of it.
Did you enjoy your time as a Princeton student?
“Enjoy” is an inappropriate word. I am embarrassed to say it, but I will say it, that I worshipped the time that I was there. I always felt that I will never, ever have another opportunity to live and think and grow in a place like Princeton.
How does it feel to go through the P-rade and see all the younger people cheering for you?
I would be a liar if I said I didn’t get a kick out of it. I get a tremendous kick out of it.
You have walked part of the P-rade route in recent years. Do you plan to walk again this year?
Well, I’m able to, but whether I will or not depends on other factors. I may ride in the golf cart, but I’m capable of walking. [Schein ultimately rode in a golf cart along the route.]
Do you have any secrets to your longevity?
Yes: a wonderful wife. That’s my answer. [Schein was married for more than 70 years to the late Dr. Selma Snyderman, a pediatric researcher, whom he met in medical school.]
Do you have any advice to offer to this year’s graduating seniors?
Just to stop thinking about anything but where they are and what it represents, and realize they’ll never have it as good again.
Interview conducted and condensed by M.F.B.