Ron Barrett

Ron Barrett

At the Checkout Fair in May, seniors were asked to write six-word memoirs of their Princeton careers. While some took the opportunity to launch a parting shot at the administration (“Grade deflation is the devil, bye”), many chose to pass on advice to incoming freshmen.  

Caitlin Ludwigsen ’09 reminded future Princetonians of the basics: “Rule one: Finish your thesis, son.” Ugochi Madubata ’09 was more philosophical in enjoining freshmen to “Remember to live, not just work.” Another senior, embittered by his last Houseparties being his only wet one, cautioned, “Don’t let it rain on Houseparties.”

As pithy and helpful as this advice was, for the sake of the Class of 2013 I asked a few seniors to elaborate.  

Thomas Chen ’09 encouraged incoming freshmen to study what they love.

“Throw away all the brainwashing from your parents and relatives about what you have to major in to be rich and successful in the future,” he said. “At Princeton you can truly major in anything, and do anything post-graduation.”

Chen said his own experience bears out this principle. He came to Prince-ton thinking he would become a scientist, and accordingly he majored in chemistry. It wasn’t until his junior year that he realized the “joy in taking random, fun courses.” Now he’s using a Charles Rangel fellowship to pursue a career in the Foreign Service.

Mason Liang ’09 echoed Chen’s advice. He had planned to go to graduate school in electrical engineering, his undergraduate major, until he took an evolutionary biology class his senior year. Now he’s preparing to study the latter in graduate school.  

Jessalyn Adam ’09 warned “not to bite off more than you can chew first semester,” a lesson she said she learned the hard way: “There’s a lot to digest and get used to as a freshman, and it all can be a bit overwhelming.”  

To fight this, Adam advised freshmen to ask upperclassmen to look over their schedules, saying the veteran students “are more than happy to share their wisdom.”

Pyne Prize co-winner Alex Barnard ’09 said getting off campus is important for keeping a sense of perspective.

“We always talk about the ‘Orange Bubble’ metaphorically, but it also seems to be a physical barrier for some people,” he said. “It’s amazing to think that on a given day, most of us don’t go more than a half-mile from our dorm.”

Barnard recalled some of his favorite Princeton experiences were off campus: Princeton University Band trips to other schools and punk rock shows at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Closer to home, there’s Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve and the towpath, which he said few students ever explore and thus “never know that Jersey is actually quite beautiful.”

Barnard also noted that “college is supposed to be fun.”  

He said that while he considers himself a serious activist, “no one wants to listen to someone who is miserable and sour all the time.” Playing in the band has kept him happy and thus made him more effective, he said.

Students should incorporate fun into their studies, too, Barnard said. That idea explains “how I wound up digging through trash with crazy anarchists for my thesis,” he said, referring to his research on the so-called Freegan movement.

“Know your gatekeepers,” David Moore ’09 advised, referring to the janitors, dining-hall workers, Public Safety officers, secretaries, and eating-club bouncers “who actually run Princeton.”

“When you could use an extra shelf, it could help if you knew your janitor’s first name and hometown,” Moore said. “Or when you could not find a pass to State Night at the Tiger Inn, that bouncer you chatted up the week before will be more likely to slip you inside.”

“It never hurts to meet nice people,” he added.

Bryan Bunch ’09 said that while he believes grade deflation is a “foolhardy policy,” incoming students should not let it change their experience substantially.

“The breadth of resources and opportunities at Princeton, relative to nearly any other college in the world, is part of what makes it distinctive and should be taken advantage of, because those possibilities may never be offered to you again,” Bunch said.

“Explore constantly and relentlessly,” Juan Contreras ’09 said. “Walk through town to discover little-known eateries and obscure stores, scour Point [the Undergraduate Student Government Web portal] to find campus events that seem remotely interesting, take any opportunity to meet the friends of your friends.”

Finally, Contreras recommended a goal no Princeton student should have any trouble meeting: “Eat as many Wawa hoagies as you can.”