In Response to: Our Most Influential Alumni [6]

What a sadly superficial inquiry, though many of the people on the list are people whom we have come to admire. What is influential is Princeton’s historical commitment to merit-based admissions and to emphasizing a humanities core as central to the education of great leaders.

What’s striking is how much luck — and being in the right place at the right time — has played a role in the prominence of those chosen. There are many others who have been influential in their own small (or even large) way without gaining prominence. Many others have acted behind the scenes to change the world for the better. They also serve who only act as catalysts for betterment, beginning with the teachers and mentors to whom we are all beholden.

Jeff Bezos ’86 has said that if he hadn’t hit it big, he would probably have been an anonymous computer coder. I’ll bet that he would have been one of the best and that the websites he created would give him influence in that anonymity equal to the influence that he has gained with prominence. 

Let’s maintain and multiply that which has made Princeton great and which has made its graduates — for the most part — constructive contributors to a better world. What’s sad is the limiting of the Princeton experience to so few among the thousands who might otherwise benefit from what Princeton now confines to its chosen elect (those admitted), whether they are chosen because they are gifted or athletes or underprivileged or simply people of outstanding promise.