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Reflections on Bonfires


Members of Princeton’s Class of 2022 have had an up-and-down, unconventional time during these past four years. But I count myself very lucky to have experienced not just one, but two, of Princeton’s most unpredictable and unforgettable traditions: the bonfire, which happens only if our football team defeats both Harvard and Yale in one season.

In the late fall of 2018, and again just this month, all of campus gathered in front of Morrison Hall for a bonfire that reached high into the night sky. 

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Illuminated Morrison Hall with Princeton class year banners hung on the balcony

This year, I found myself staring at the high, bare branches of a particular tree, lit brightly against the dark sky by the orange glow of the bonfire. I remembered looking at the same tree three years ago as a first-year. Now, in the same place and warmed by that same heat, I didn’t even have to close my eyes to imagine that it was 2018, that the majority of my time at Princeton still stretched ahead of me. 

The crowd, rowdy and calling for the flames before the fire had begun, seemed to quiet as the bonfire crackled, its sparks catching high into the wind. On one side of the green, the Greek pillars of Whig and Clio were lit orange - all other light came from the growing fire, illuminating our faces and protecting us from the November chill. 

Sustained on wood pallets assembled and painted by each class the same afternoon, the flames stretched as tall as the trees, as if they were trying to ring the bell atop Nassau Hall. The crowd cheered as wooden pallets cracked and fell as they were consumed. Within our orange bubble, everything touched by night was lit bright as day.

The fire remained strong for more than an hour before it began to diminish. I felt that I had been there only a minute since it first began.  

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Aerial view of the bonfire on campus




 


My Love Letter to Princeton


Princeton was the last stop on my college tour. This was not intentional by any means, it just so happened that I circled by Princeton last before heading to the airport. In retrospect, had I visited Princeton first, I do not doubt that the rest of the college tour would have been for naught because everything else faded in my memory as soon as I stepped foot in the Orange Bubble. 

I visited in the summer when Princeton is quieter, serene and as gorgeous as ever. There is something about the empty walkways and buildings that both intimidate and invite you in, and as a high school sophomore, I could see myself at Princeton, walking (or running, as I often do now) to class, weaving my way through the residential colleges in search of new study places (of which there are plenty), or sitting at a bench outside stealing a moment to myself in the midst of organized chaos. 

Now, speaking to you as a student who was lucky enough to be admitted, the beauty of Princeton extends beyond its exterior. To begin, there is also never a ‘standard,’ or ‘average’ day here. I might wake up expecting to attend my 3-hour seminar in a classroom, but instead spend the class time sitting outside with my classmates and professor discussing politics. I’ll think I’m spending the night eating dinner with my friends but instead find myself wading in the SPIA fountain on a whim and meeting so many new people. The opportunities and paths are endless here on a day-to-day basis, and they become even more varied the more time you spend here. 

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Me in front of Fitzrandolph gates

I also love Princeton for the people and how genuine they are. Even before I had committed to the University, Professor Ksenia Chizhova from the East Asian Studies department reached out to me to arrange a Skype call to talk about my interests and how I could pursue them at Princeton. She assured me of the attention I would receive from the professors and people here, and after I arrived, I saw how true this was. The professors are so attentive, friendly and care about their students. My professor for a course called “China’s Frontiers”  sent me a feedback email after the first class, complimenting me on points I brought up during the discussion. 

I also learn a lot from my classmates, who are inspirational in their drive and work ethic, their commitment to social causes and extracurriculars outside of class, and their willingness to lend a helping hand. Everyone here has an interesting story to tell, and my friends range from environmental engineers to future politicians. As someone who is greatly influenced by the environment I am in, I believe there is no other place where you will be able to become the best version of yourself than Princeton. So take the chance, and join our Princeton community! There is a place for you here.

 


Open Your Heart


Dear Great Questbridge Match Class of 2026,

Yes, it is official! You (yes, I mean YOU!) are a valued part of Princeton’s newest class, the Great Class of 2026. 

Maybe I’m moving too fast… let’s back up. In September, you worked tirelessly to submit the Questbridge National College Match application. Through October and the beginning of November, you waited with apprehension to see if you’d become a finalist. Then, once you became a finalist, you hurried to submit your supplements. The journey you’ve been through up until this moment has been filled to the brim with its fair shares of joys and challenges. I am intimately familiar with both (read: have you ever cried and screamed for joy simultaneously?). 

Despite the stress, not just from the college admissions process, but also from just being a lower-income or first-generation student navigating the U.S. education system, you have made it here to Princeton. I know you might not quite feel that you are “here” yet, and you may wake up many nights wondering if your match announcement was a dream or a stroke of luck. However, I am here to tell you that it was neither of those things. Even though you have yet to step foot in your dorm room or Frist campus center, or your freshman writing seminar, I assure you that you belong here. With every cell in your body, you belong here.

I remember that when I got my match email, I was sitting in my virtual French class. Although my eye fatigue was setting in at that point, my body jolted with adrenaline as soon as I saw the email at the top of my inbox. That moment felt like it would make or break my future. In many ways it did. I walked into my parents’ room, shaking as we opened the email together. In the rare moments that followed, my family’s joy pulsed forth in a sea of hugs and congratulations… finally, I had made it!

As I write this letter to you now, sitting in one of Princeton’s six dining halls, I’ve grown so much. In retrospect, my last few months of high school and my first few months of college have flown by in a blur. I say this knowing that when I was actually living those days, powering through the endless virtual classes, it felt like college life could not come soon enough. They seemed to drag on. But, I urge you to make the most of your final high school months. In those months, you will soak up the company of your friends, go to your classes for the last time and say many hard goodbyes. Don’t let those precious moments slip away as you instead grasp towards a blooming concept of college.

You will be changed here at Princeton. I know I have. In the past months, I’ve become a person who takes showers at night (enough said). I’ve joined the Princeton University Band and discovered a love for playing the cymbals. I’ve traveled to New York for the first time, and went ice skating for the first time, too. 

 

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Me posing with my band outfit and royal joes

Once high school eventually comes to an end, you will face the difficult but rewarding task of transitioning to college life. Please open your hearts to the experiences here at Princeton.

 I’ve changed so much, and yet I am continuously grounded by my Questie community. Though high school-me didn’t start making my match poster until May of 2021, the Questbridge community here on campus has consistently been here to support me and cheer me on, especially through the Scholars Institute Fellows Program (SIFP). Believe me when I say that there are hundreds of people here who can’t wait to meet you! 

With all my love

       Aminah 

 

The Irreplaceable International Identity at Princeton


Stepping foot on Princeton’s campus for the first time as a first-year can be an intimidating process as you’re met with new lingo (What is a prox? Are P-sets different from precepts?), beautiful looming gothic architecture, and a myriad of brilliant people from all walks of life. 

For me and other international students, it was paired with the added challenge of attending university away from our home countries, and beginning our journey largely alone. 

Due to COVID-19, international students in the class of 2024 did not get the traditional International Orientation experience, a 3-day program where they are given the chance to acclimate to Princeton’s campus and the United States before the rest of the first years arrive. 

As a result, I was afraid that I was insufficiently prepared for what Princeton life entailed. I remember sitting in my dorm room on the first night, jetlagged from a 14-hour flight and feeling homesick already, wondering if and when this place would feel like home. 

It took only a few days for me to realize my worries were for naught, as not only was everyone incredibly friendly and welcoming, but I luckily had a strong international community at my disposal to help ease the transition. 

The hub of Princeton’s international community is the Davis International Center, where students can find resources ranging from a ‘Guide to Living in Princeton’ to information to help with Immigration. The Davis IC held weekly events all through the year such as Bingo Night, Cake Baking, and Immigration Sessions for work authorization. In addition to more administrative tasks, the Davis IC also has undergraduate student leaders who are there to help with programming for the international community at large. 

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International center leaders posing in front of the SPIA fountain with flags.png

The virtual International Orientation hosted by the Davis IC leaders early on in my first year led me to meet some of my first (and closest) friends at Princeton, and the weekly study breaks I had with my International Orientation group throughout the semester allowed me to connect with people from all across the globe. The community was close-knit and strong, in addition to being some of the most enthusiastic people I have had the pleasure of meeting. 

The international community helped me realize the emotions I felt as an international student were not isolating, and I welcomed the consistent presence of Princeton’s international community during an uncertain academic year. 

Towards the end of my first year, I applied to be an IC leader myself, as I wanted to contribute to taking the pressure off of future international students at Princeton by becoming their sounding board and support system. 

This year, the Davis IC continues to support its international students by hosting events such as International Education Week, with activities ranging from an opening gala with performances from student dance groups to international trivia night -- and they were all in person!

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Two international center leaders posing

Though the prospect of attending college in a country thousands of miles away is daunting, I can assure you that the Davis IC is more than equipped with the proper tools to help you. I am grateful for the abundance of resources at my disposal as an international student, and my fellow IC leaders who enhanced my sense of belonging here. 


A Guide to the Residential College Office Staff


Right on your first day at Princeton, you’ll have a wonderful support system in your residential college: the dorm you’re assigned before you move in. But your residential college is more than just a place to sleep-- it’s a vibrant community with plenty of resources in place to support you. It all starts with getting to know two professors.

One is the Head of College: each residential college has a Princeton professor who is an advising resource for all first and second-year students. In Forbes, my college head has been Professor Maria Garlock, a bridge enthusiast who lives right next door from Forbes. She often hosts cooking get-togethers and special dinners at her home. 

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Forbes College exterior

Together, with another professor who is the Dean of College, they organize college engagement events like tea & pastries during midterms week or sushi night leading up to course selection. Dean Caddeau, the head of my residential college Forbes, often brings his puppies to campus and is also very involved in the Princeton Garden Project among other sustainability initiatives. 

While the Head works primarily with first and second years, the Dean advises juniors and seniors in their independent work. Even after you may leave your residential college after sophomore year to live in junior and senior housing, your residential college will still look after you! 

You’ll also have a Director of Student Life (DSL) and a Director of Studies in your residential college. They advise on academics, well-being and your life outside of classes. Our DSL is a great resource for virtually anything, from getting better sleep to resolving roommate conflicts. Your Director of Studies is great for course scheduling questions or help with managing your workload. 

Each college office will also have a program coordinator and office coordinator who are integral in keeping operations running smoothly, organizing student events on the ground, and taking charge of every day. You’ll see them every time you enter the college office, and they’re the friendliest faces you could see! 

Together, the coordinators, directors, the Dean and the Head of College organize so many activities that make each residential college feel like home. Whether it’s the weekly study breaks, gear giveaways, sushi, advising sessions, outdoor carnivals, or more, the college office really keeps us all going.


5 Must-Know Campus Buildings


The quaint Princeton campus is far from overwhelming, but it does have around 200 buildings. When you first arrive on campus, how do you choose the ones to locate and explore first? To help, I've assembled a list of what I see as the five essential buildings to familiarize yourself within your first few days at Princeton. These buildings are likely to play a central role in your campus life, and as the semester progresses you can gradually visit at least a fraction of the remaining 195.

1. Frist Campus Center

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Stone steps and statues outside of Frist Campus Center

Frist Campus Center, with its central location just off of Washington Road, is the hub of campus life. It's where you pick up your mail and packages, get "late meal" if you miss the dining halls' lunch or dinner hours, and attend events like Flu Fest (for a flu shot) and club meetings. Frist isn't quiet like a library, so it's also a common spot for study groups to meet to collaborate on problem sets and projects.

2. The University Store

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bicycles parked outside of university store, with Blair Arch in background

The U-Store, close to Blair Arch, is a convenience store located right on campus. It sells snacks, cleaning products, toiletries and school supplies, and is open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. When you realize your calculator batteries are dead or that you're out of shampoo, the U-Store is the place to go.

3. Firestone Library

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Exterior of Firestone Library

There are many libraries on Princeton's campus (Engineering Library, Plasma Physics Library, East Asian Library, Lewis Science Library, to name a few), but Firestone is the principal home of books and special collections. You can visit Firestone to study or browse, and it's also where you'll pick up books requested through the digital catalogue.

4. Dillon Gym

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Exterior of Dillon Gym

Dillon Gym is where to go to destress with a workout. Inside you'll find the Stephens Fitness Center, which has cardio and weight machines, as well as several basketball courts and the Dillon Pool. Each week Dillon has a number of group fitness classes to offer, like yoga, spinning, and Zumba, that are free to Princeton students, so you can stop by Dillon for either an individual or group workout.

5. Your Favorite Dining Hall

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Vegetables in the servery of Whitman dining hall

Princeton has six residential college dining halls, and you can check the menus online ahead of time to see what each one is offering in the upcoming week. You may find that one dining hall consistently offers your favorite meal, or you might just prefer the ambiance and lighting of one dining hall over the others'. For me, I'm partial to Whitman's dining hall, because they always have a fantastic salad bar at lunch and dinner with greens and hummus. 

These places are important to almost every student, but everyone finds their personal favorite spaces to study and socialize. For me, there's a spot in the E-quad lobby by the printer where I like to study before class. I still have many places to get to know, though, if I hope to visit even half of the 200 buildings!


Princeton Before Princeton


"Sheesh, it's hot!"

That was my first comment when I stepped foot on Princeton's campus during the summer. I was told multiple times that the winters here were extremely cold. Yet, no one had warned me about the heat or the humidity here. I guess they just assumed that I was used to the hot and humid weather coming from the Caribbean. Truth is, I was not. Or maybe I was. Maybe I used to be. Maybe I forgot how to feel comfortable in 30-degree weather (or should I say 90-degree weather, since we are using Fahrenheit now!) after living abroad for close to two years. In any case, my first day at Princeton, I made the mistake of wearing a large 100% cotton dark blue sweater. It did not take me long to start the mistakometer: mistake number one!

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be part of a cohort of ten students invited to attend the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI) on campus. Considering the issues my country, Haiti, was facing, this was the best option to ensure I had access to the resources I needed to take advantage of this opportunity to explore Princeton before the official start of the semester. To get a taste of Princeton before Princeton.

 

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Gil and a friend in front of Blair arch on campus

Yet, I was insecure at first. I doubted that I would be able to succeed with online classes. Until then, my high school experience had been mostly negative. I remember my teachers and classmates being overwhelmed and inaccessible. The material was barely engaging. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this dark epoch was the significant lack of interaction which for me represented a major issue. My favorite part about being a student has always been the ability to directly interact with and learn from both my peers and my instructors. Online learning seriously hampered this process. I was apprehensive about going through it all again. Besides, I was now going to Princeton. I anticipated the material to be comparatively more difficult with the teachers to expecting even more from me. 

The first thing I noticed when FSI started was the enthusiasm of the staff. They had this inspiring way of drawing everyone in and keeping us engaged. They were well imbued with the challenges that coordinating this online program entailed and instead of using the circumstances to justify their shortcomings, they were determined to brave all obstacles to make the experience just as enjoyable as if everything was happening in person, although in a distinct and special way.

I had the impression that everyone wanted me to feel at ease. I progressively started to feel more comfortable interacting and asking questions.  My professors made sure that I had access to all the resources and assistance necessary to succeed in their courses. On the one hand, there were office hours, learning consultations, writing center appointments… etc. On the other hand, I received support from departments and offices at Princeton that targeted my individual identities and were able to address the specific challenges that I was likely to face because of them. This included support for international students, ESL and multilingual students, students of color, first-generation and lower-income students. I suddenly felt excited about learning, meeting new people and trying out new things that seemed appealing to me now that I was in this space. 

These six weeks at FSI mainly taught me two things. First, I learned that while things can (and will) be tough at Princeton, I will always find the resources to support me in whatever I am going through and that I can count on the help of passionate people who genuinely care about my success. Second, I learned that it gets very hot here during the summer! 

I look forward to many more mistakes and even more learning opportunities!


 


The Forbes College Game Room: An Introduction


The game room in Forbes College is deep varnished wood and just the right amount of dim. On one half stands the pool table of red velvet, scuffed and creaking with memories, a pair of wiry lamps suspended above it. There’s a rack of cue sticks - some missing their tips, and some bent with age. There’s an old jukebox that no one knows how to work, but it doesn’t matter because the place is lively enough without it. 

There are couches arranged around the TV and scattered in every corner of the room, and sometimes you can barely line up a shot at the pool table because there’s a club chair knocking at your leg and asking you to sit.

There’s a framed portrait of four men at a pool table across the room, button-down shirts rolled up to the elbows. The portrait looks out over a foosball table, and on most nights you can hear the clacking of handles on little men and soccer balls, the din of wood sticks striking hard resin and felt.

I first learned how to play pool in this room: how to hold the stick so it would strike the ball just right, without slipping; how to predict collisions and pathways and accept unpredictable motions. I would spend an hour after dinner most days, playing pool with strangers who became teachers who became friends. 

If you’re ever on campus, stop by. Pick up a cue, even if you’ve never played, because someone’s always close by to teach you. Take in the varnished wood and the deep light and - if you look close, you might see some initials, carved in chalk right up near the ceiling, from two freshmen who never expected the white dust to still be there three years later and long after.


Staffing is Princeton's Secret Weapon


My experience at Princeton has definitely been shaped by faculty and staff in and out of the classroom. They are great leaders and role models. A good amount of my time is spent in libraries, cultural centers and dining halls, places where I find people who also inspire me to be the best version of myself, who look out for my well being, and who are invested in my personal growth, even though they don't necessarily have to be. Guidance through academic advisers and professors were things that I expected to receive in college, but some things I've learned and hold close to my heart were also inspired by the staff at Princeton. Some of my experiences include: 

Some of the best lessons I've learned about personal development and academic growth have been through these spontaneous conversations. These experiences have led me to reflect on the following:

  • It's okay to still be undecided. You're not supposed to know it all at 18.
  • Don't just go to school. Experience it. Allow yourself time and space for adventure and surprise encounters. 
  • You don’t have to do it all. Just because you can doesn't mean you must. It’s important to manage your time when it comes to your academics and extracurriculars.
  • Take time to listen to others.  

I encourage everyone to take time and speak to the people around you, faculty and staff alike.  They are a part of my Princeton story and I encourage you to open your heart to include them in yours.


Class of 1972 to Class of 2022: My Princeton Grandparent


Every graduating class at Princeton has its own grandparent class, the class that graduated 50 years prior. I’m in the Class of 2022, so my grandparent class is the Class of 1972. My class government initiated a new partnership with our grandparent class that matched me with my very own mentor from the Class of ‘72. I am so grateful for my friendship with my Princeton grandparent, George.

I was first paired with George in the spring semester of my first year. We were matched because of geographical proximity, since I’m from Maryland and he lives in Washington, D.C., and because of shared academic and career interests. At the time, I was planning on majoring in English, which was what George studied before becoming a journalist. Journalism is a career path that interests me, so George was a perfect match for me.

Ever since then, George and I have been regular email pen pals. We have lengthy email chains in which we give each other updates about what’s going on in our lives. George has told me many amusing stories from his time at Princeton, such as his adventures as an upper-level student living off-campus on a run-down farm and playing for a band. He has also given me valuable advice about writing academic papers, insights into the job search process, tips about journalism and so much more. These emails have been a constant source of joy and learning for two years now. It’s amazing to get to hear about the similarities and differences between the Princeton of the 1970s and the Princeton of the 2020s.

I lucked out even more with my grandparent matching because I have also gotten to know George’s wife, Monica. She is not a Princeton alumna herself and has no obligation to mentor me, but she chose to get to know me along with George. She has had a long career in politics and policy, which is another of my career interests, so she has also been a great resource. I’ve met up with George and Monica twice, once in summer 2019 in DC, and once on campus in fall 2019. It was so much fun to give them my own campus tour and show George how much has changed since he was a student. I also FaceTime George and Monica regularly.

I did not expect that I would end up with a good friend from Princeton 50 years my senior, but George has been an amazing source of support and kindness and I feel truly fortunate to have him in my life. This friendship exemplifies the strength of the Princeton community and the power of the Princeton alumni network.