An open letter to the president:
Dear President Eisgruber,
I have been a member of the Princeton community for my entire life. I went to Reunions as a kid, with my grandfather (’34), uncle (’62), and father (’69). My sister (’01) and I (’00) enjoyed a three-year overlap as undergrads together, a period I believe my ever-loyal Tiger father enjoyed immensely. Now, as a local Princetonian (I live less than a mile from Nassau Hall), who is married to a Princetonian (*05), bringing up two boys in this wonderful town, I couldn’t feel more connected to the University. I’ve volunteered in various capacities over the years, interviewing potential incoming Princeton students and serving as a member of CPUC, among other roles. I’m also looking forward to attending the mini-reunion/pre-planning session for the Class of ’00’s 25th reunion in April. And, as usual, figuring out who will sleep where for the upcoming June reunions.
I say all this to make clear that I love my old university and have felt connected to the University and my fellow alums in a profound way my entire life, even before I matriculated there, and well before I moved to this town. And I have never, in my entire life, seen or felt such an astonishing outpouring of Princeton love as I witnessed this past month. I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the Sweet 16 game in Louisville the weekend before last, and it was a sight I will never forget. Princeton people wandering around a distant town, wearing their Reunions jackets, high-fiving other tiger-striped strangers, overflowing with joy and warmth and community. We see that every June on our beautiful campus, but I have never witnessed it anywhere else than in Princeton. I don’t think any of us have. The amount of goodwill the basketball team engendered with its magical post-season run cannot possibly be calculated.
I have never been a big believer that college coaches and athletes should be bigger than the university they represent. A lot of the schools we competed against in that tournament do believe that. But that’s not the Ivy League. That’s not Princeton. And I think that is why I found Princeton’s entire NCAA March Madness run so utterly remarkable. Coach Henderson and his players represented themselves as Princetonians and students first, throughout their entire time in the spotlight. Every time the coach was interviewed — and it was a lot — all he spoke about was how proud of his students he was. He didn’t go on and on about how amazing their athletic prowess was; he bragged about their interest in neuroscience. He didn’t blow up his own coaching prowess; he brought his Mandarin-speaking shooting guard on to talk about his secretary of state aspirations. He made a point in every single interview to say that Princeton was the greatest school in the country — not just the best basketball program, but the best school and the best place he could ever hope to work.
I flew home the morning after that amazing Creighton game — a loss, but an incredible one — with a glow that could not be dampened by a scoreboard. For all our University spirit, and I have seen much of it over four-plus decades, this felt like something entirely different. Our greatest spirited gatherings, our annual reunions, exist only within our orange bubble. This was a show we took on the road. The world got to see our pride, our community, our sportsmanship, our support of our students, our connection as alums — we were on display, all the best parts of Princeton, for the world to see. What a gift, I kept saying. What a gift.
As I got to know the team’s roster better over the course of the season this year, I was struck by how closely it resembled the perfect community the University has been working so hard to build on campus. Coach Henderson has put together a team of strivers and workers, zero celebrities or superstars. Just a team of incredibly talented student-athletes who continue to put their team first. They are diverse from every angle — race, class, economic background, academic interest, religion, nationality, and so on. And always, always, the team is bigger than any one individual. What a great metaphor for the University as a whole, let alone a perfect demonstration of the University’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion we’ve been working so hard to prioritize in recent years.
I’m sure Coach Henderson’s phone is ringing off the hook after this run — not just because of his wins on the court, but the utter class with which he presented his players and his program off the court. Well-deserved. For all the Fields medalists, Nobel laureates, and MacArthur geniuses roaming our hallways, I would be hard-pressed to think of a single one, who, in the moment of their greatest personal triumph, continually put their University, let alone their students, far ahead of their own private achievements.
How on Earth are we going to be able to keep our coach at our school, the one who has led this team to so many amazing seasons and so many phenomenal accomplishments, all the while keeping the spotlight on the brilliance of his players in the classrooms, not their prowess on the court? After the last month of being the greatest ambassador for this university’s values we could ever ask for — putting on global display our commitment to diversity, equity, community, unity, pride and spirit — I certainly hope the University does everything it can to retain him here.
Losing him wouldn’t just be a blow to our basketball program and all the alums who came together all over the world to cheer them on these last few weeks — it would be a loss to all future members of our community. It would rob all of them, and all of us, from finding this magical moment of joy and connection with our fellow alums and our beloved university in the future. What a painful loss that would be.
Let’s Go Tigers,