I sat at the long table in Firestone Library’s DeLong Reading room. I often come to this room to do personal reading and informal studying. The room is on the first floor of the library and so one reads to the backdrop of constant foot traffic, a good rhythm for times of light reading. However, as I read my book, Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, the floors were quieter than usual. It was the Sunday ending intercession, but it was also the start for many, especially my sophomore peers, of the second semester. That Sunday for a sophomore marks an important transition in the Princeton experience. Afterwards two decision must be made. The one that comes first in the week immediately following intercession is a social decision and the second coming later, but best given thought now, is an academic decision. Here I will consider the first of these decisions and the second in the succeeding post.
The social decision is one peculiar to Princeton. It is whether one will choose to take meals in a dining hall, eating club or pursue one of the independent eating options, though the question is often reduced to “Will you join an eating club?” That reduction betrays an oft polarizing thought regarding the clubs, which is that they are the conventional, and perhaps safest way for an upperclassman to pursue social life here. Some definitely think so, and others certainly think not. I was unsure. I do not know much about the clubs, having visited none this year and less than five times as a freshman. However, I did have quite the curiosity about this process that others have more definite opinions about, so I thought if I were to talk with substance about this side of Princeton that I needed a first-hand experience. I talked to a few friends about which place I should try to bicker (the name of the process used for clubs that are selective, as opposed to the process used by clubs that accept members on a first-come, first-served basis), and so I decided on Ivy Club. Set midway down Prospect Avenue, their selective process was supposed to consist of 10 interviews and be light on playful revelries.
The bicker process started on Sunday and was to continue for the next two nights. As I said earlier, I was quite into Boethius as Lady Philosophy led him to the point in which he could forsake matters of fortune and gain an understanding of what was actually worthwhile in life. Consequently, I missed the first day of bickering.
Around 7 p.m. the next evening I walked with the bickering throng onto Prospect Avenue and soon arrived at the steps to the mansion with the strobe navigation light out front. After a loud welcome, I found a very good friend who told me what do: fill out this paper with a few interests (aesthetics, running, architecture), hand it in and be interviewed.
For the next few hours I had a series of conversations all over the various parts of the clubhouse mostly about my own interests with forays into more general topics. Save for a rather mundane tripartite question from one interviewer and a contest of charades, this is how the night went on in rather pleasant conversation. After a seventh interview, I was quite tired and so the last three would be for the final day of bicker.
My second day was quite like the first, though brief, as I had only to talk to three people. After a bit of talk on Slavic studies, ballet and the London skyline, I was back in the night air interspersed with the festive bickering of the other clubs along the street. Against expectation, I enjoyed the process, but therein lay the appeal of clubs. They are a chance to self-select into a community of people of similar interests out of a larger University community one may at times feel adrift in. And so for that opportunity I hoped to get in.
Two days later I woke up as I normally do for my morning run and found a note slipped under my door. My first thought was how unpleasant it must have been to be on deliveries some time between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. I opened the envelope and the letterhead read “THE IVY CLUB,” the middle informed me that I was not selected, and the end was a salutary message from the club’s president. I put the note down, smiled at Lady Philosophy then onto teeth, push-ups, laces and out running as always. I took a different route this time, and found the views of Princeton from this new path quite nice and lovely as the sun brought the day’s blue morning. New paths, those are the ones I seek now. Beaten avenues are good, but when circumstance or choice puts us on new ones, well we may as well make them good, too, as there are so many here.