Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Briana Pagano ’18

East Marion, New York • English View Profile

My Favorite Campus Lectures

From Pixar to Chanel No. 4

Over my four years at Princeton, I’ve had the honor of attending public lectures given by everyone from Nobel laureates to undercover journalists (including one who reported from North Korea). Among these lectures, here are three of my very favorites:

“The Art and Science of Pixar” with Danielle Feinberg, Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar Animation Studios

While working on Pixar’s “Coco,” Danielle Feinberg was directed to “create a world like no one has seen before.” Sitting in the audience in Maeder Hall, I couldn’t help but be struck by these words. Neither coder nor artist, I share the same mission nonetheless. Each day, we all strive towards it in our own personal way—imagining, aspiring, defying odds, creating a world like no one has seen before.

I left this lecture more inspired than ever: by the creativity that transforms both worlds and lives, by the dedication to do good work, and moreover, to do meaningful work. Because, as Danielle said, “It wouldn’t be a Pixar movie without imbuing the whole thing with heart.”

“Princeton and The Other ‘F’ Word: a Conversation on Failure” with John Danner, Fortune 500 advisor & UC Berkeley business professor

Go into your garage and pick up a can of WD-40. Look closely at the number on the bottle; thirty-nine failures preceded this product. Henry Ford went through 19 letters of the alphabet before arriving at the Model T. Ever heard of Chanel No. 4? Didn’t think so. But everyone knows what came next.

John Danner’s lecture reminded me that failure is the foundation for growth. The following morning, I awakened to a rejection in my inbox. As I dragged the message into my “Rejection” folder, I couldn’t help but smile. I am so grateful for the place that has taught me to see, in failure, the reaffirmation of character, the beauty of surroundings and the overwhelming opportunity that awaits.

“The Hidden Worlds of Narrative Nonfiction” with Richard Preston, New Yorker writer & bestselling author

On a warm, spring night in California’s Palomar Mountains, a young man named Richard Preston stood beneath a sky full of stars. Slowly, he wandered toward a small white dome that stood out against the night’s cloak of darkness, lured by a combination of curiosity, elevator music and laughter. Pausing in front of the astronomy dome, Preston knocked once, waited a few moments and then knocked again, louder this time, as to be heard over the music. After a few moments, a voice emerged from inside the dome. “Hey, somebody’s knocking!” Preston stood still. “Aw shitsky, Carolyn,” the voice continued. “What do they want?”

With that, the door opened, and out of the dome stepped Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker, astronomers who were searching the night sky for asteroids and comets that could slam into the Earth—or, as per Preston, “the only astronomers whose work could have a real impact.”

That night, as Preston sat beneath the brilliant spring sky, he realized: somebody has to write about this. Standing behind a Princeton University podium on Dec. 1, 2016, reflecting on a science writing career that has taken him all the way from Ebola labs to redwood treetops, Preston referred to this moment in the mountains as his “calling.”

And, sitting in the audience that winter afternoon, I was reminded of mine.