I borrow a book title from John McPhee ’53 to share observations of Princeton and my 45th Reunions, which I attended during three sunshine-filled days in May. 

To gain a Sense of Where You Are requires a “sense of where you have been.” 

As a member of the Class ’79, I came of age during the Bill Bowen *58 years. It was a tumultuous time, a period marked by South Africa divestment petitions, student protests around Nassau Hall, coeducation, and the call for affirmative action.

President Bowen navigated these shoals and managed, as Nancy Malkiel so aptly captured in her book, Changing the Game: William G. Bowen and the Challenges of American Higher Education, to lead Princeton to new institutional heights.

Forty-five years later, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 is navigating similar shoals and continuing to lead Princeton to new grounds. Just as Bowen, from a societal standpoint, had to widen the doors of the University to women and students from minority groups, Eisgruber has been dedicated to widening the doors to more students, first-generation and low-income students, and increasing the diversity of faculty and staff.

All institutions exert inertia. From President Goheen (with coeducation), Bowen, and now Eisgruber, institutional pushback is a given. It could be overwhelming, especially in a place like Princeton, replete with traditions and her many old sons, from an earlier time.

Most recently, I read Maria Ressa ’86’s How to Stand Up to a Dictator and Fei-Fei Li ’99’s The Worlds I See. Both Maria and Fei-Fei are Woodrow Wilson Awardees.

Would these two women (not to mention Sonia Sotomayor ’76 and Elena Kagan ’81) have attended Princeton, if it were not for the collective vision of Goheen, Bowen, Shapiro, Tilghman, and now Eisgruber? And for them to be of Service to the Nation and to all Nations? My life's path is similar to both Maria and Fei-Fei. Princeton lifted, educated, and cultivated us to strive to do good deeds.

One of the best gifts that Princeton offers to the entire alumni body is the series of Affinity Conferences. Since 2015, I have attended We Flourish, Adelante, She Roars 2, and Thrive. I eagerly await the second Asian Alumni Conference in autumn 2026. These conferences are extraordinary opportunities for reflection, growth of the community, and reengagement with Princeton. I should add, the Third World Center was my refuge during my years on campus.

As I walked around campus during Reunions, I witnessed buildings bearing old and new names: Wu Hall, which will be part of the new Hobson College, Yeh College (Fu & Choi), Kwanza Jones and Jose Feliciano halls, Icahn, and Bloomberg. These donors are the culmination of years, indeed decades, of advancement that Princeton has initiated, driven by visionary University leaders.

My personal campus tour was conducted by a Class of ’24 woman who majored in chemical and biological engineering. While she pointed out many of the new developments, I took great pleasure in informing her of what has come before, of the stories behind the names that are on campus and in Princeton events like Alumni Day. Alumni like Nancy Peretsman ’76, Maria Ressa, Fei-Fei Li, and James Yeh ’87, among others. Names that may not have been possible were it not for leaders like President Eisgruber. Perhaps Professor Nancy Malkiel’s next book might bear his name?

Vitus Lau ’79
Fremont, Calif.