Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dispatch from Campus: Prospectives

“Where’s Clio Hall?” I’ve been asked a dozen times this summer. Each time, the speakers pronounce it differently, sometimes Clee-oh, sometimes Cly-oh, but always carefully, always with a visible effort to say it correctly, as if they might be judged for any mispronunciation.

It’s a familiar enough scene. Visitors to Princeton are always different and yet always the same somehow: Parents with cameras and sunglasses striding around with eager curiosity, their awkward 16-18 year-old progeny in tow. The children are intent on subtly disassociating themselves from their parents and any embarrassment that might spring from being in their company.

I like to think that it’s something in my gait or my air, that lets these people know that I, unlike them, belong here. That somehow I exude the confidence of a native, of someone perfectly comfortable with her surroundings and herself.

Of course, I know what really gives me away is that I’m alone. I do not have an entourage of relatives hovering around me, nor is there an orange lanyard around my neck clearly marking me as one of the thousands of campers who have descended upon campus. While during the year I may walk to class or to the library chatting to a friend or two, over the summer, real Princeton students are distinguished by their solitude.

For some reason, to these anxious prospective students and their parents, I am someone important. What I think of them, they believe, actually matters in the great frenzy of the college admissions process. Mispronouncing Clio becomes the equivalent of an American in Paris ordering “pute” in a restaurant instead of “poule”; an unforgivable faux pas that will mark them forever as an outsider.

To become insiders, to actually be part of a college campus, is what these little family units are striving for. As if acceptance to our august institution will magically solve many or most of the little insecurities and problems they contend with on a daily basis.

After giving directions I smile at the retreating figures heading towards yet another information session given by a bored admissions officer about SAT scores and extracurricular activities. Because, though they may wish to be like me, a real Princeton student, I still get lost on campus. Because I still have no idea what I really want to do with my life. Because even when you do belong here, you never really belong here. And because, after two years, I still don’t know how to properly pronounce Clio.


Anonymous said...

Such great observations and writing, ruined completely by the rubbish that is the last paragraph

I love Isabel's work said...

I think it's a prime example of tricolon crescendo, antithesis, and anaphora, all wrapped up perfectly to come full circle to her point that Princeton students are no more wise nor less insecure than when they took the Orange Key tour. Thank you for demonstrating that for Isabel, too, Anonymous!
Don't hate, appreciate.