When a PolicyMic editor and fellow Princeton alumna approached me with this topic, I was hesitant. People already have the sense that Ivy League grads, and perhaps Princetonians in particular, are obsessed with their alma mater. It's a reputation that most of us wouldn't dispute. My best friends and I are so in love with Princeton, in fact, that this week we're joining 24,000 other alums for an off-year reunion amid a meningitis outbreak. More on that shortly.
But I decided to share my favorite things about Old Nassau because nostalgia and pride are things to be celebrated. The reality in America today is that not everyone can or wants to go to college. But whether you took over the family business, sold your app and became a millionaire at 19, chose to serve and protect, or went to a four-year university, I hope you can point to a period in your life that made you who you were meant to be all along.
That personal transformation really is my favorite thing about having gone to Princeton. Here are a few more.
Short of taking you with me, it would be impossible for me to fully convey the utter pandemonium that is Princeton Reunions. While most (and I'm guessing, all) other schools invite alums back to commemorate only major 5- and 10-year milestones, each year the orange mothership opens its loving arms to tens of thousands of alumni of all classes, resulting in a flood of unrivaled school spirit. For three nights straight, we travel from one tented courtyard to another enjoying overflowing libations, live and DJed music, and the joy of running into people we may not have seen since graduation.
During the day, there are world-class lectures and performances, though the younger crowd tends not to wake up in time for that stuff. The highlight of the weekend is the P-rade, an hours-long march through campus in order from the oldest living alumni to those about to graduate — everyone donning orange, black, tiger print, and the patented "beer jacket" or other festive costume aligned to a class-specific them. This year, for the Class of '08s 5th reunion, the theme is the Gr8 Gatsby. I'm more than a little jealous.
2. The alumni network
What do Michelle Obama, Jeff Bezos, Sonia Sotomayor, Ellie Kemper, and Wentworth Miller (the hot guy from Prison Break) all have in common? They all went to Princeton. While I don't expect to bump into the First Lady under any Reunions tents, I am fully cognizant whenever I'm in a room full of Princetonians that each one has enormous potential for success.
A Princeton connection is the reason I write for this site; it's also why a couple of my younger friends from school have had the opportunity to intern for my firm. I don't think this is unique to my alma mater at all, but willingness to help out — or even just to strike up a conversation in an airport with — a fellow alum seems especially strong among the Tiger population.
3. The fictional alumni network
I've been out of school for four years, but the novelty of discovering a Princeton reference in pop culture hasn't worn off and probably never will. One of the folks with whom I'm most proud to share an alma mater is Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock fame, whose, um, totally real yearbook page was recently unearthed by Princeton Alumni Weekly.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was a real person and did attend Princeton for a short time, gave us fictional Princetonian Amory Blaine. Hemingway gave us Robert Cohn. Princess Mia from The Princess Diaries earned her degree at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. And as every Tiger knows, Batman went to Princeton.
4. The architecture
Part of the reason the University crops up in so many places is that it's absolutely visually stunning. When I was a freshman, Across the Universe was filmed outside my dorm room. Sometimes I watch A Beautiful Mind just to catch a glimpse of Blair Arch.
I won't elaborate, but I'll mention that my freshman/senior dorm was basically a castle and that you can take campus tours focused solely on our gargoyles. I highly encourage you to take a virtual tour, if you're not close enough to see the real thing.
5. No student loans
This is a huge deal, and something my fellow alumni and I are grateful for every day. The student debt crisis in this country is nothing short of shameful, but I am so very blessed to have graduated debt-free. This isn't because my parents footed the bill outright (they certainly don't have the means), or because there's a building on campus that bears my last name, or even because I got a scholarship for being a star student.
Princeton admissions are need-blind, and financial aid is need-based. Largely because of the generosity of loyal alums, Princeton's financial aid office is able to calculate out how much your family can afford to contribute, will assign you to a campus job to earn a portion of your tuition, and then give you the rest in a grant that you don't have to pay back. Amazing.
6. What we learned
It sort of goes without saying that at a school where you can take classes with Toni Morrison, Paul Krugman, and Cornel West, you're going to acquire untold knowledge inside the classroom.
I'm indescribably grateful for that, and I did learn subjects as varied as astrophysics and Italian gastronomy. But that's not really what I'm talking about. At Princeton, I learned how to belly dance, which also meant that I learned self-confidence. I learned another language and flew to Europe to study it, which meant I also learned to take risks. Joining an international community of beautiful minds gave us the opportunity to imagine new worlds. Ultimately, I learned how to think.
Bonus! Shirley T.
Princeton's outgoing president, Shirley Tilghman, was an absolute dream. Not only was she a poised, fair, and friendly advocate for the students, but she also (we're all convinced) had a weather machine that ensured unmitigated sunshine for every outdoor event. We're going to miss seeing her in that role, but we're all excited to welcome incoming President Christopher Eisgruber. I hope he inherited the weather machine.
Fellow Tigers, I know I left out so many wonderful things about Old Nassau. Please leave them in the comments. Everyone else, tell me your favorite thing about your current school or alma mater!