During my sophomore year, I worked a campus job known as Tiger Call. The purpose of being a Tiger-caller was twofold: We encouraged alumni to donate to our annual fundraising drive, which helps to provide more opportunities for learning and discovery on campus, and updated their contact information (if it had changed) so that the University could remain in touch with them.
This may not be a job for everyone, but I enjoyed a couple aspects.
The first was getting to see the basic alumni profiles as they flashed across my screen while I dialed their numbers. It gives an odd feeling of continuity across the ages but also between Princeton and the outside world. A sense of certainty that beyond the FitzRandolph Gates, alumni have gone on to do absolutely anything and everything—and often amazing, high profile things.
But the better part was when they actually picked up the call and I got to talk to them. Some people do not want to be called unexpectedly, so they were initially somewhat suspicious. However, you could hear them relax as soon as I said that I was calling from Princeton University—relieved that the call wasn’t (exactly) from a telemarketer. Sometimes they had questions for me, which always caught me off guard. “What year are you?” Sophomore. “What’s your major?” Classics. “What are you writing your thesis on?” Uh… let me get back to you in approximately a year.
Often enough, they wanted to reminisce, and this always surprised me too. “You’re very lucky to be there. I had the greatest time, back when I was an undergrad.” I can’t quite imagine saying something like that to anyone over the phone, but maybe that’s just me. One time I called a man who insisted on having an entire conversation while, at the same time, using a roaring leaf blower to clean off his roof. I couldn’t imagine doing that, either, but I guess it’s a matter of preference.
“Is Quadrangle still one of the eating clubs?” You bet it is. “Is [the musical comedy group] Triangle Club touring this year?” How could they not? “Is Professor so-and-so there, because he gave me a B+ on a quiz and I still think it’s very unfair how…” Uh…
The overwhelming majority were happy to chat for a couple minutes, and a few times per shift I’d end up having a real conversation with someone. “I couldn’t help but notice that you work at a publishing company. What’s that like?” Or, “You used to be in Orange Key? Me too! What was your favorite tour story?” And it was always a lot of fun noting that these people grew up in different countries, came from different backgrounds, pursued different majors and extracurricular activities, but the mere fact of having gone to the same school was enough common ground to begin immediately sharing their own life stories.
If anyone wants proof of this level of community in a high-octane sort of way, he or she should see Princeton’s annual Reunions. At Reunions, thousands of Princeton grads descend upon campus in eccentric orange and black jackets where they wander around, chat with people, visit their old dorm and classroom buildings, and, you know, reunite.
I couldn’t tell you exactly why Princeton graduates are like this. It doesn’t seem to be part of any contract we sign, or written in small print on the matriculation form or anything. Princeton alumni just generally tend to consider themselves one very large family. I suppose that I will, too, after I’ve graduated.
The tiger (as in Panthera tigris) is a relatively solitary, territorial animal, largely ignoring others as it goes around hunting. In an ironic twist, the Princeton Tigers I called through Tiger Call were extremely social, talkative and completely interested in what we younger Tigers were doing.