Class of 2014, congratulations. But in the midst of all the celebration I want you to take the time to reflect a bit using a little three-word phrase you’ve probably heard once or twice this year.
I want you to Check. Your. Privilege.
It’s easy, really. I’ll demonstrate. Go ahead and take out a sharpie, and your privilege checklist, draw a big fat check-mark in the box that says “Graduate of the best school in the nation. ” [David demonstrates] There we go, privilege checked. Easy.
Now rest assured, classmates, I don’t totally misunderstand the idea of checking your privilege. Friends and family members, don’t worry, the “Princeton privilege kid” that you’ve heard about from Fox News is still just a freshman. If you’re disappointed that I’m not the Princeton privilege kid, just go ahead and take a nap for five minutes.
But seriously, I truly can’t stop thinking about the privilege Princeton has given us, and not just because we’re now all permanently branded with the mark of an elite institution – branding, by the way, a privilege previously reserved only for SAE pledges.
And not just because we’re now part of a global network of influential alums like Jeff Bezos or Sonia Sotomayor. Oh, and fun fictional alums like Jack Donaghy or Bruce Wayne or Susan Patton.
And no, I’m not interested in privilege just because the school threw us two super awesome Cane Sprees, fun-filled afternoons of class camaraderie that are eternally etched in our minds as some of the greatest times we’ve had at Princeton.
No, what I mean by privilege is this – a few weeks ago, I sat, filling out the senior exit survey, the one that asked like “how was your major?” and “do you know what science is now?” and “wow you really didn’t physically exercise all four years? What?”
But there was one question that stood out. It asked me if, after four years here, I was more confident in knowing now what I wanted to do with my life than I was when I entered. And I said No.
I said no, because Princeton gave me the courage to explore and engage with the things I didn’t know I liked, like all of the weird toppings that will end up on your Say Cheez sandwich no matter what you ordered.
I came to Princeton thinking I would maybe work in finance or for the government, but only because of the prestige. And I leave now unsure of an exact path but knowing what I care deeply about – making the world better through comedy, or what my major the Woodrow Wilson School described on our post-grad career survey as “undecided”.
Princeton showed me that, as Miley Cyrus once said, it ain’t about how fast I get there, it ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side – its about The Climb. And it’s about twerking, but President Eisgruber said I can’t twerk on stage, at least not while Vice President Gore is here.
I didn’t come to this realization because Mathey dining hall fed me pizza ’til I barfed and ODUS threw money at my student activities ’til I barfed.
The real privilege of a Princeton education was being around people, you people, who are so passionate about their lives that they’ll achieve their goals no matter what obstacles stand in the way, like grade deflation, or chugging one to get one at TI, or math.
It’s been a privilege to witness the football team accomplish two bonfire seasons, inspiring generations (of future arsonists).
And it’s been a privilege to watch SPEAR change the campus debate on prison reform, and to see the people behind “The Surface” create an artistic space where we can draw cartoon dicks on a wall without consequence.
It’s a privilege to witness when your best friend follows his dream and wins a Rhodes Scholarship.
Or perhaps it was even a privilege to watch me, when I dropped a bunch of Chinese food on the U-store floor, scooped it back into its container and ate it anyway.
It’s not just the “big accomplishments” that matter. Learning from you all has been a privilege every day, no matter who you were or what you did.
Maybe you were a quiet kid who revealed a hidden genius in precept, or a secret poet on Tiger Admirers trying to spread some love, or simply someone who survived this place.
Maybe you were that “Princeton Bananas” guy who takes pictures of people eating bananas in the dining halls. Actually, that last one wasn’t a privilege, it was really creepy, and you need to stop.
It has truly been a privilege to be around passionate people, even if I don’t know who first inspired who or how to trace how one person’s actions affect another’s. I’m confident that, as we head out into the world, we’ll spread what Princeton gave us far and wide, across the nation and across the globe. In that way, privilege is a lot like meningitis, I guess.
So let’s not be afraid to check the privileges Princeton gave us. Challenges to make us grow; check. Friends to show us how to grow; check. Immunity to an exotic and life-threatening disease; check.
Oh, and being part of the great class of 2014? Check.