In his recently published memoir, The Night Before the Morning After, Scott Newman ’21 spends four of 22 chapters discussing his admission to Princeton and his experiences on campus. But when the New York Post covered the book — in a December story headlined “Princeton student: Ivy League made me a ‘social-climbing weasel’” — the University took center stage.
The Post painted Princeton as “unfriendly, uninspired, and corporatized” and described its students as social climbers trying to scale the corporate ladder in an attempt to land jobs in fields such as investment banking. “It’s an environment that stifles any kind of creativity,” Newman told the newspaper. “Kids aren’t talking about Kierkegaard or Hegel. They are strategizing about how to look good for Goldman Sachs.”
The article was shared on student Facebook pages — in some cases by Newman himself — and became the subject of heated online discussion.
“I know that a lot of people felt like his characterizations of Princeton and of his own journey through Princeton were somehow misleading,” said Remy Reya ’21, who wrote an opinion piece about the controversy in The Daily Princetonian. Reya said that he and others didn’t feel that Princeton was as bleak as Newman made it out to be or that Newman’s views were “immutable and omnipresent truths about Princeton.” Michelle Dai ’23, an operations research and financial engineering concentrator, said she’s seen the opposite: “Going to Princeton has demonstrated the power of cooperation, the power of what great minds can do together.”
Many students agreed with Newman’s critiques, though, particularly in the areas of social climbing and college admissions. “There is a real problem of ubiquitous hyperfocus on a couple of elite schools, and the college admissions rat race is real,” Reya said.
Newman said his criticisms were not about Princeton, or even about college more generally. His memoir largely focuses on experiences outside the “Orange Bubble,” such as spending his summers in the south of France or courting a 40-year-old woman he met in an airport. Newman, a history concentrator, grew up in New York City and attended the Lawrenceville School, which also gets a few chapters in the book. He plans to finish his senior year in Sydney, Australia.
“This is not a book about Princeton,” he said. “It is not a book about college admissions. It’s very much a coming-of-age story where I talk about learning from my mistakes.”