Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Dream School

I didn't apply to Princeton for college.

Daughter of a Harvard man, I applied there instead. Princeton was hardly even on my radar.

After my sophomore year of college, however, I went to Princeton for a summer seminar at my favorite institute in the world.

And my life changed.

At the seminar, I met some of the best friends I've ever had in my life: Josh, Jake and Alex K. It amazes me how we still keep closely in touch, more than two years later. We are pen pals and cheerleaders and mentors, passing on job opportunities and travel plans and introductions to important people. We support each other.

Whenever we talk about it, we all agree that that time at Princeton was magical.

How else can you account for the fact that we were only together for two weeks... but our friendship has endured afterwards for years? We called ourselves "the Fellowship," and indeed, there was something special about what happened there. As Jake once wrote to me in an email, "I don't think I realized how good [the two weeks in Princeton] were until later. There was literally nothing in the world to worry about except having fun. And our little group was a hilariously perfect combination..."

I've been back to Princeton four times since then. In fact, I'm the only one of the Fellowship who's been back. And every time I go, it almost feels like a pilgrimage.

My most recent trip back was just two weeks ago. Being there without the rest of the gang broke my heart a little bit.

Every corner of campus and especially of the theological seminary is rich with memories, exquisite, golden, blurred only a little by the passage of time and made all the more beautiful for the blurring.

I annoyed the people I was with because I couldn't help but cry out with excitement as each beloved place came into view.

"Look! The fountain where we went swimming and splashing one night... and walked home dripping wet and barefoot, in the dark, looking like a bunch of hobos."

"There's Aquinas House, where we used to walk in the mornings for Mass, and where the interns performed Much Ado About Nothing the last night. It was my favorite Shakespeare performance I've ever seen." (still is)

"There's the street where we used to 'go for a wander' with one of the boys... what long, lovely, rich discussions would arise."

"The book store where we got to know each other the first day..."

"The quad where we would lie outside on blankets and watch clips of Brideshead Revisited from our laptops..."

"Our classroom building..."

"The Yankee Doodle Taproom where we would go for drinks after class..."

Some of the places are too fraught with memories and emotion for me to even describe to my companions. When we drove past the Stone Circle, where we said our goodbyes that last night, I could only clutch my heart and whisper, "The Stone Circle!" I almost wanted to cry. Realizing how silly my emotion looked to the people I was with, I sternly told myself, "Pipe down, Tess!"

The thing is, I really love Princeton.

I met Serena's boyfriend Anthony while I was there last. He is a Princeton graduate student, in the physics and engineering department. I think he must be a genius - not least because he's dating my best friend.

I began to rhapsodize to him about how much I love his campus. How much I adore Princeton. He laughed, not unkindly.

"I don't get to enjoy it very much," he explained, "being a student. I'm always so busy."

And I realized, I don't actually want to study at Princeton myself. Because then when would I get to enjoy it? No, I just want to be able to walk around the campus every day, go to events at Witherspoon, pray in the gorgeous old campus chapel (which has a Catholic tabernacle in it - one of my very favorite things about the place) and relish in its beauty.

I called my mom and informed her of this.

"Well honey, it sounds like you should marry someone who teaches there," she said.

And I thought to myself, you know, that's not a half bad idea.


  1. My parents actually want me to apply there. We visited. It was beautiful, BUT it was also freezing cold and raining, in winter. So I didn't get a good impression. However, after hearing you rave so much about it, and already knowing how good of a school academic wise it is, I might be tempted to send in that application (I'm still on the fence). While many will say, it can't hurt to apply, I say that they happen to require another essay and an extensive supplement application full of questions like "What's your favorite website." I'll need to think about that one for a while.

    Anyway, great pictures! And I was very surprised to hear about the tabernacle -- very cool!


  2. Liz, thank you so much for your lovely comments! I would definitely recommend applying there. I know exactly what you mean about the extra essay and supplemental application - they are exactly why I didn't apply there! (I remember they asked me pointless questions like "what is your favorite word?" and I thought, "How is this ever going to show you that I belong at your school??") But I really wish I had so I could have gone there. Did you know that Princeton is called the Catholic Ivy? It's got a strong Catholic population and some excellent resources for Catholics and people of faith. In fact, it's the campus where the Love and Fidelity Network got started (one of the best things to happen to higher education today!). And like I mentioned, there is a lovely little Catholic chapel with a tabernacle inside of the main campus church, which I think would be so wonderful for stopping in to make a visit throughout the day. Even though it was nasty out when you were there, I promise that it is truly gorgeous much of the time - one of the prettiest campuses in the world! Also, I know plenty of Princetonians so I could introduce you to good friends there. In other words, please oh please apply! :)