Elegy for an undergraduate

I was a middle-class to upper-middle-class kid at a decidedly upper class university. Princeton.

I still remember a picnic back home, probably the summer after high school. A friend of mine from middle school was there, who went to high school at the exclusive St. Paul's School. A couple of his friends from St. Pauls' were at the picnic, too. One of them told me, "The smartest kids I know are from public school. I think they have to work harder." That has stayed with me since then. Even as I send my two boys to a relatively elite Friends School, the only one in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I'm a little embarrassed about having gone to Princeton. I do have it listed in my Facebook profile, partly in hopes that friends from college will find me. And I cross-post my Blogspot blog to my Facebook account, so presumably they could read this stuff I write about Quakerism.

My favorite story illustrating how people react to my attending Princeton actually happened the summer before I matriculated. I was working for a temp agency, and I got a one-day assignment to wash dishes at a cafeteria at an AT&T office building. As my supervisor for the day walked me down the hall to the kitchen, she asked what my I was doing other than temp work. I said I was going to college in the fall. She asked where. I said Princeton. She laughed and laughed and laughed. "Oh, a Princeton man washing dishes! I love it!" I thought it was funny, too.

I like to say that I went to Princeton over other choices because of the radio station, WPRB. I spent hours and hours in high school listening to PRB. I wrote fan letters and called the DJs. I visited the studio a couple of times, en route to the Princeton Record Exchange.

When I got my admission letter, I called "Death Ray" Gonzales and asked him to play "New Face in Hell" by the Fall. He obliged, saying, "And a more appropriate song I couldn't think of." I still have a cassette tape of that.

I spent a lot of time at the station when I was in school there. Suffice it to say, I could've received better grades in physics if I hadn't been going to see the Replacements or the Fall or the Ramones or Sonic Youth or the Minutemen or whomever at King Tut's City Gardens in Trenton or Maxwell's in Hoboken.

One of the benefits of being a Princeton alumnus is that they send me a magazine every couple of weeks whether I want them to or not. And I have never had to pay for it! The Princeton Alumni Weekly, more accurately a biweekly, is actually pretty interesting. Robin says it's better than her alumni magazine.

The latest issue features a book about a famous Quaker, by a contemporary Quaker. I think I'll post about that one separately.

Then online, there's Michelle Robinson Obama '85, but I think you know about her already.

Oh, and my classmate Chris Lu is executive director of President-Elect Obama's transition. "Lu, a Harvard Law classmate of Obama who until recently served as the senator’s legislative director, has worked in law and government for the last two decades."

Clearly, I'm an underachiever. And that's okay. Cf. the dishwashing story above.


Martin Kelley said...

WPRB, right, I remember aiming the radio in just the right direction to get that in!

I have to say I did have one of those "what have I done?" moments watching Obama in the victory speech. He's only six years older and I don't think I'm quite on the right track to succeed him as President in 2016. Well, of course I don't want to, for many reasons, but it is a nudge to realize that our generation is actually stepping up and that generational shifts can actually happen fairly suddenly.

Chris M. said...

@Martin: Yes, it is not a bad time to be 40-ish, I'd say.

Liz Opp said...

I dunno, Martin. I'd say that QQ has it's own significant place in the very small sector of Quaker online communities in North America... if not the world. So you're a very big fish in a smallish sort of pond: surely that's an achievement to have on one's resume... smile

Chris, the post made me chuckle. I needed a few chuckles tonight. Thanks.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Imperfect Serenity said...

This triggered lots of thoughts and memories. For one thing, my first boyfriend was a Princeton guy (class of '84). We broke up partly because of an argument over eating houses. Is that what they're called?

I once did a workshop with George Lakey on class at FGC Gathering. We were told to line up by order of our social class when we were 12. Having grown up in a one-bedroom-apartment wearing second-hand clothes with parents who hadn't gone to college, I ended up in the lowest class group. Then when we sat in groups to discuss our experience, it was discovered that I had gone to Friends' Central, Duke, and Yale, and I thought I might be chucked out of my group. That experience brought to the surface all the contradictions in my identity.

I also have this vague feeling I should have accomplished more by now. Not only did I have an elite education, I'm only a year younger than Obama and the same zodiac sign as him and Madonna! Good thing my "smallish sort of pond" doesn't value celebrity.

Chris M. said...

@Liz: Glad to be of service!

@Eileen: They're called "eating clubs." Thanks for sharing your experience with the George Lakey workshop.