PRINCETON, NJ—If you happen to pass by me at Princeton University this summer, you might notice that I am gazing a bit too intently at the sprawling dorms and the seemingly endless courtyards that run through this central New Jersey campus. You might assume that I am awed by the gorgeous Gothic architecture, or entranced by the subtle suburban charm.
But in fact, my dreamy state has nothing to do with a sense of wonder. Rather, since beginning my internship at a Princeton physics lab this summer, I have been envisioning my life as a student here. Two years after I nearly committed to Princeton, I have been contemplating the college years that might have been.
During the April of my senior year, I stepped onto the Princeton campus for prefrosh weekend and immediately “saw myself” as an undergrad. The university was a mere 45-minute drive from my house, and my high school was sending six other students to Princeton, several of whom were my good friends. The environment felt cozy and homelike, a perfect place to continue my education after a taxing senior year.
But ultimately, with less than a day left to make my decision, I caved to a combination of parental pressure and the sense that “you just can’t turn Harvard down.” I committed to Harvard almost bitterly, wondering if I was losing a chance to be truly happy.
When I chose to work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab for the summer, I knew that my old uncertainties would reemerge. In my sole visit to Princeton since I declined enrollment, I had spent the whole evening interrogating myself about whether I had made the right choice. Would my internship wind up being ten weeks of the same terrible monologue?
When I first arrived, I thought it very well might. Walking the quarter mile between my dorm and Nassau Street, I was overwhelmed by the same emotions I’d felt two years prior: comfort and security, a sense of contentment.
But as my days at Princeton turned into weeks, I began to notice something odd about the feelings that the college engendered in me: Imagining myself as a Princeton student felt less like slipping into an alternate life than slipping into a prior one. The sensation I felt on campus was almost identical to the comfort I felt when I visited my high school or slept in my old bedroom during visits home from college.
And as I opened my eyes to my surroundings, I began to notice all the ways in which the town of Princeton is so much like my hometown–quaint, suburban, and full of commuters to New York City and Philadelphia. I began to see all the ways in which Princeton, a preppy New Jersey school, resembles the New Jersey prep school that I attended.
I came to realize that even though I was extremely lucky to have had the option, attending Princeton would’ve meant never really leaving home. And for the sheltered 18-year-old who I once was, that would have meant foregoing the growing pains associated with that rite of passage.
Because being five hours away from home, without a ready-made friend group, I have made serious mistakes and had no safety net to catch me. I have clumsily mismanaged some relationships and bungled others; I have struggled through academic and personal setbacks; and I have sometimes disappointed myself or failed to live up to my own expectations.
In an unfamiliar environment and sometimes unsure of where to turn, these experiences have tested my strength. But they have also forced me to become a more mature and independent person–and for that, I am deeply grateful.
Evan T.R. Rosenman ’12, a Crimson news writer, is a double concentrator in physics and mathematics in Kirkland House.