Graduation is 2 weeks away, and I have to say its been quite the four years. Walking into Princeton, I rmeember feeling cocky, audacious, like a king. I had the confidence and arrogance of an Ivy League admitted student. I felt like I had conquered the world. I remember that smug smile on my face that wouldn’t go away fro the rest of the yearonce I got accepted into college. it was a good feeling.
That smugness quickly wore off as Freshmen year dragged on. My first semester on campus was brutal. I had a 2.72 GPA. For a kid that did decently well in High school, and basically derived a shit ton of identity from being considered decently smart, it was a hard blow to swallow. Once my confidence took a hit, it took a while for me to do anything reasonable. My first reaction after that terrible first semester was to bunker down, take easy classes, and figure out the best possible ways to dig myself out of this hole. I remember distinctly going to the Study abroad office at the end of my first semester and getting told that my GPA was too low to go study abroad, and that lit a fire under me. I felt so angered at that rejection, and I swore I was going to change things.
Second semester of college was rather focused. Much like a blackout that happens after too much drinking, I don’t really remember much about the second semester because of all the work I was doing. Literally, it felt like every moment of my life was about work. I did meet my future roommate that semester though (in a class that I ended up PDFing because it was waaaay too hard). To say the least, the first year of college was mostly mistakes. To top it all off, my mother got diagnosed with cancer a few weeks before the end of the school year, and the little semblance of calm I had was quite literally thrown out the window. But the extra time in the hospital away from college, gave me a chance to refocus, and grades got better. You could say that a part of me was lost that year, and I don’t think it ever really came back. The young man who would smile, laugh, and seem confident about himself had disappeared after that year, and at least as far as I can tell didn’t really surface again until Senior year. The janitor that cleaned the bathroom I lived near would always give me encouraging statements like, “Keep at it! Your almost there!” He graduated before I did unfortunately, and I was unable to say goodbye. That man kept me going, and I’m glad he had faith in me. (Thank you!). In Freshmen year, I also met (but wasn’t really great friends with) two amazing people, who to this day are amazing people to talk to. So, I guess some good came out of it.
Sophomore year was really more or less the same as freshmen year, except that I started feeling more jaded by everything far faster. Classes seemed to be the same old same old, the job search seemed to be the same thing year to year, professors seemed to care the same amount, and the routine felt really stale. But hey, my grades were getting better, and I ran into something called Design thinking which was legendarily awesome. I also started a company called Qurious that year, and boy was that a disaster. My co-founder and I had this grandiose vision of connecting people on the internet for educational purposes, and while the idea was shit, we got so much better at convincing people through sheer willpower that I would still call it a positive experience. However, I mishandled some things, and my co-founder and I got into a fight that led to the end. Entertaining drama, but quite frankly unnecessary and useless overall. By this time, I had gotten used to the concept of being a middling student amongst peers who were amazing. Oddly enough, as my mentality changed to accept my mediocrity, my grades steadily got higher. I ended that year with straight A/A-s in 2 straight semesters, and boy was I proud. As you can probably tell by now, my life still revolved around grades, and my identity was still tied to it. After all, I was here to study and get a good job (internship scenario summer after sophomore year didn’t work out as well as I thought either).
Junior year was a turning point of sorts. My grades had stabilized, I had learned how to work hard, and my confidence was on the rise. However, I would say that Princeton never really felt like home, and I don’t think I ever felt comfortable here. The year started with some friendships getting stronger, and some becoming weaker. I hung out a lot more for no reason with a small set of people, who may or may not have always provided the best company. I was independent in terms of food plan (which meant I had to forage), which made things difficult. Eating alone was depressing, and it took a while to get used to the fact that by leaving the dining hall, you weren’t always going to have someone to sit with.
My research project that year was interesting, and was probably one of my favorite projects. My advisor had an incredible way of always sounding encouraging, even when the quality of my work failed to reach the lofty levels of her expectations. She was by far one of the best instructors I have ever worked with. One of my favorite experiences on campus was TAing a Design class on campus. Not only did I meet so many wonderful people, I also had the chance to really see what the other side of the equation looks like, and boy was it hard work. I always thought that TAs had a cushy job, but it turns out, they have to do a lot as well. In a quick aside, I would like to thank Professor Lidow (who may or may not ever read this) for giving me such incredible opportunities. I met him as a sophomore who had no idea about what he was doing, and left his class + TA + class as a more educated confused man. But at least, he equipped me with the tools necessary to figure it out. I would never have the perspective I have today had it not been for his involvement.
As you can probably tell by the way I am writing this, my personality eventually took a hit for this workaholic lifestyle. I became a very boring person to be around, and generally was never interested in doing anything that was outside of coursework. I bought a guitar and never used it (well almost never, my roommate would disagree that I never used it — he said I was terrible at it). That same part of me that had disappeared before had been told to move out, and never come back. Princeton came to represent work for me. It was the equivalent of having a job. One woke up in the morning, did the work that needed to be done, ate food, and slept in the evening. There was no real room for fun. Towards the end of the year, thanks to a good friend, I started playing a lot more basketball and that was fun (although I learned I am quite terrible at the sport). My fun release (a spurt of fun time) started to involve more and more basketball, and to this day, anytime I want to do something fun I go to the gym or go on a run.
Senior year….Finally, I made it. There really isn’t a whole lot to say tbh. The first semester was hard work, the second semester is still hard work. I started reflecting a lot more, and even had a wall of post-its to capture my reflectiveness. I think I became more at peace with my experience at Princeton in senior year. I came to accept the workload, the struggle, but at the same time I met some amazing people along the way that shaped who I am. It may also help that I got a job I really didn’t think I could get. Like I remember saying to my mother a few weeks prior to leaving my internship after Junior Year that the one company that I would leave the company I was interning at was the company I ended up getting, and there was no way I was going to get that (you had to pass something like 7 interviews, and the questions are supposed to be extremely hard).
As some of the stress of college lifted, the fun began to reemerge. I went out more, went to more parties, drank more (which doesn’t always have to be involved with having fun, but definitely helps loosen things up), and went to the gym more. I would say I was generally a happier person. However, even reflecting back now as I write this “memoir,” there is something hollow about this experience. I feel like I won’t miss it once its over, which for me is so odd since I missed high school for months after it was done (may have been years…but you know, months sounded more reasonable). I don’t think I ever invested time to build friendship roots, and memories that would go with me. At the end of these four years, I think all I will have to go forth with as a token of Princeton is that piece of paper marking my graduation. Yes the friends will hopefully stay (but if you asked me to answer honestly, I would say I have low expectations from most if not all of my Princeton friends); yes, I have grown as a person; but, No, I don’t think I emotionally feel tied to this campus, the people here, or the community.
To the next act of my journey, and another amazing four years. May the next four bring more celebrations than work.
Your fatigued writer,