Road Trip: "Aha Moments" at Princeton's Graduation

It was rainy, cold (55 degrees on June 2nd!), and awesome.  Honestly. 

The multi-day graduation celebration communicates much about the university.  It started off with “Reunions” where roughly 25,000 alumni came to celebrate. Wearing their class jackets alums walked the “P-rade” route through campus.  This year started with the class of 1935 and finished with the class of 2015.  Reunions is concrete confirmation of Princeton’s US News alumni giving rate of 62.5% (the highest I have seen among any school).  Why do I care?   Because people only give back to a school if they think it has positively and significantly impacted their lives. The alumni network at Princeton is a life-long benefit, if one chooses to use it.  Princeton makes a difference in students’ lives.

The past four years I have come to realize just how academically engaged most students (there are always exceptions) at Princeton are. In 2004 Princeton initiated a grade deflation policy that set a maximum of 35% A’s in any undergraduate class and expected other Ivy League Schools to follow suit. They didn’t. Enter a Princeton GPA into and it magically calculates the comparable GPA at Harvard.  3.69 at Princeton = 3.82 at Harvard. Grade deflation came to an end in 2015.

Princeton is a pretty serious place, but with a well-balanced environment. Eating clubs, the social hub of campus on Prospect Street, are most active on Thursday and Saturday nights. (On Friday nights you find many students in the libraries, honestly). Paraphrasing President Eisgruber, I learned that the Ivy League does not track the number of all sports champions… but if one were to count sports championships, Princeton would have had 11 and “that other school in Massachusetts” would have come in second with 10 in 2014-15.  As for the Arts, The Lewis Center of the Performing Arts is well under construction.  It will be massive and has necessitated a slight repositioning of the Dinky (a much used NJ Transit train stop on campus). One of the more academically serious of the Ivy League, Princeton students manage a balance that is exceptional. Going to office hours, finding an internship, using the writing center, meeting with professors, doing research, engaging in a non-academic fascination, well, it is just what is done.  As one colleague of mine put it – students “ride the wave” of their peers. 

After Reunions came Baccalaureate, Class Day, Prom, and eventually Graduation Ceremonies. Gratefully, the bulk of the President Eisgruber’s speech was distributed via email after the fact -- prudent, given the rain and cold.  Reading his message to students in warm and dry surroundings I was struck by its theme of engagement in the world beyond “the orange bubble” known as Princeton. Engagement that is both “pragmatic and profound”. Eisgruber selected past graduates Alan Turing and Fredrick Douglass as the standard for today’s graduates in fulfilling “Princeton in the nation’s service.”

Consider Princeton: if you are academically serious yet actively engaged in non-academic endeavors.