The first time I climbed the steps between the tigers, I was 13, visiting Princeton with my family during our first time in New Jersey. Mom made me climb on top of one for a picture, as though I wasn’t already in my prime awkward phase without prompting the eye rolls of passing college students. We have the photo on some long-lost computer drive: a lanky teen with a bad haircut posing in a meaningless place.
It wasn’t until nine years later, bouncing up the steps as a graduate student and dodging a tour group, that I realized it wasn’t so meaningless after all.
I come from a family of strong women: five aunts, six female cousins, two sisters, two grandmothers, and of course, one mother. Their stories are what make the privilege of education so real to me, and what make standing between these tigers, who commemorate coeducation, so special.
On the steps, I think of my father’s mom, who learned without help and mothered without example, who raised her daughters to defy expectations and her son to believe his daughters must do the same. I think of my mother’s mom, who with a middle-school education raised her daughter to become a college professor, and who never saw me go to college but somehow still helped me through. Most of all, I think of my own mom, who never had the options I did, but who by force of will cleared a path for herself and laid down a path for me.
I’m not the most deserving woman in my family of the education I’m getting at Princeton, but sometimes I doubt that any of us are.
This place is not a tribute to the women who are here so much as it is a reminder of those who are not. It’s a place where Mom makes you pose with the tiger to give you a vision of yourself at a school like this — to show you all that’s within your grasp while you remember the countless women who made that so. And, I suppose, it’s a place for her to embarrass you a little in front of passing college students. She is your mom, after all.
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