Monday, June 03, 2013


The Princeton reunions - some of which I observed intentionally, but it was kind of omnipresent from Thursday on - are really quite something. Are people as excited to have attended any other college? I mean, yes, we've all encountered people whose time in Euphemistic Boston must come up within 10 seconds of conversation (and others whose fear of being that guy makes them outrageously evasive about their educational history), but they tend not to be wearing crimson while dropping that information. The Princeton version is something else, seemingly unrelated to discussing time in Euphemistic New Jersey with the uninitiated. And then there are the things where people are huge fans of college sports teams, but it doesn't seem to be as much about their own non-athletic presence at these institutions, however many years ago.

What struck me the most was not just that everyone was in orange and black. I mean, fair enough. It was that people clearly purchased special orange accessories. Not throwaway stuff, or items purchased at the event itself. Not the reunions costumes, which are also a thing. I mean things like orange leather purses and matching shoes. Nice dress clothing in orange, or orange-and-black. I'm not entirely sure there weren't more orange cars on the road than there are normally. People may well buy orange items year-round because they went to Princeton. Or, it appears, in some cases, because their spouses went to Princeton. And, I mean, not that there's anything wrong with that. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

One of the classes had some kind of extraterrestrial theme, complete with star antennae. 

I have been assured that not everyone who goes to this college reacts in this way to having done so, and my anecdotal evidence tilts heavily towards people having that affiliation and not having that approach to it. But I'm not aware of this existing as even a substantial-if-marginal phenomenon at other places. This could, I suppose, have something to do with my own affiliations - two universities with a lot going for them, but especially little in the way of that kind of rah-rah, and with particularly cynical/non-sporty/alternative student bodies. UChicago is (or was, when I was there) more tweed than Maroon fleece material. And NYU is... well, everyone in the city has some sort of affiliation with the university. It's unavoidable, because it's not just a college, but a trillion different grad programs, continuing-ed classes, medical facilities, etc. Which I remind myself when the tangentially NYU-affiliated do ridiculous things that make the news. So maybe straightforward, non-ironic school pride is the default at American universities, and I've been living in some kind of Darias-and-foreigners bubble where I've missed that?


Miss Self-Important said...

"Are people as excited to have attended any other college?"
Only if that college had a really good football team, and the people in question mainly spent college watching that team in action. But I think Princeton is unique for non-athletic alumni pride, which can also be less charitably construed as unwillingness/inability to move on w/ life.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

The football thing seems different, though - more like being proud of a regional team than like caring particularly about your own college experience. It seems more like rooting for the home team than like nostalgia for college, and my sense (I may be way off) is that people from a town with a big-deal football team might care about that team even if they themselves didn't go to that college/any college.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yeah, college football also generates regional enthusiasm, especially in the Midwest and South, but as a source of specifically alumni pride, only football seems to breed Princeton levels of enthusiasm. Dartmouth also seems to cultivate intense alumni loyalty, but it is not manifested in such well-attended annual pilgrimages back to the relic site as Princeton's.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

It's the pilgrimage, you're right, that's what's special. I mean, I liked my college and my high school, and have attended alumni stuff for both, but when it was a subway ride away. And I could see attending a multiple-of-ten reunion, if I were living somewhere not incredibly far from Chicago. But... right.

What I forgot to mention in the post, though, were the tiger-print ballet flats this one girl was wearing. Perhaps the message I'm missing here is that all of these ostensibly durable accessories *are* single-use, and wearing them sends the message that one's hedge-fund employment makes single-use handbags a viable option.

Petey said...

"I have been assured that not everyone who goes to this college reacts in this way to having done so"

Self-selection bias.

The Venn diagram of those who regularly attend Princeton reunions and those who willingly dress in the requisite bizarre mufti consists of two circles with a lot of overlap...

"but it was kind of omnipresent from Thursday on"

As a poor grad student who can't even afford whole-wheat pasta and a proper rice cooker, may I offer the humble suggestion of robbing them blind at night when they're drunk and nostalgic? I know what you're thinking: I'm not a criminal, Petey! But they're easy pickins', lucrative, very low risk, and deserving.