Grade Inflation: Maybe Unfair, Probably Just

Before I left school last fall, I graded one set of students’ papers in my role as a graduate instructor at UC Berkeley. It was a basic paper assigned in an introductory sociology course, so I assumed that a competent, complete answer deserved an “A.” When I submitted my grades and sample papers for the professor to check, she demanded that I re-grade every single one. A’s, she insisted, are for excellent work that goes above and beyond the norm.

Four years at the finest undergraduate institution in the country, and I had no sense of the difference between exceptional work and simply complying with instructions.

I learned yesterday that Princeton will most likely be ending its experiment in “grade deflation.” Most of the endless discussion that began before I set foot on campus has centered on claims that the specific way grade deflation was implemented—namely, a 35%-A target for each department, with a stringent only-55%-A standard for junior and senior —was not “fair.” Maybe it isn’t: the stories about exams with A-‘s erased and replaced with B+’s certainly give that impression. “Unfair,” though, is the term you use when you feel you have a sense that you are not getting the advantages of others (i.e. students at Harvard or Yale) but have no deeper principle to back it up.

Since “fair” seems like an awfully subjective standard, and the faculty committee recommending an end to grade deflation put quite a bit of stock in such perceptions, I will offer my own. I’m reasonably sure that with a small bit of introspection, most of us—myself included—would admit that we received A’s for courses at Princeton where we did not exactly give it our all. I was shocked at the consistency with which I could get A’s by simply doing what I would have assumed, prior to coming to campus, would be the minimum—that is to say, doing the reading, starting my papers more than a night before they were due, seemingly vaguely interested in precept, and actually going to lecture. Yes, I was a sociology major—but, then again, sociologists were more “deflated” than Woody Wu majors and had lower grades to begin with.

Most Princeton students, apparently, would not agree with me. According to the grade deflation committee’s survey of students, 80% of Princeton students believe that they have at least “occasionally” had a grade “deflated,” and 40% think it has happened frequently. This must be a joke. The committee’s data suggests that the actual decline in grades due to the deflation policy was modest to non-existent. It’s mathematically possible but barely plausible to think that, during a period where average GPAs went up .05 points, 80% of Princeton students at some point received “B+’s” for “A-“ quality work.

Let me offer an alternative explanation: grade deflation is a good excuse. It’s a good excuse for students, of course, to explain why they are no longer effortlessly succeeding like they did in high school. More importantly, though, grade deflation was an excuse for professors, who could hold their highly entitled students to some kind of standard, while preserving their teaching evaluations through displacing blame onto a third party (usually Dean Malkiel).

What this last point gets at is that there’s much more at stake in grading than “fairness” within the university. Grade inflation is one aspect, although probably not a driving force, behind the ongoing transformation of American higher education. A recent experiment with grade deflation at Wellesley found that underperforming departments with underfunded students could compensate by pumping up their grades. Worse, grade inflation appeared to be a tool to mask racial disparities—that is to say, Wellesley dealt with concerns about its racial achievement gap by just offering artificially high grades to everyone. This is the Faustian bargain of modern higher education: professors, under the pressure of an increasingly competitive job market and rising non-teaching obligations, can reduce the quality of instruction by sating students with A’s and leaving them plenty of time for the real business of university life, which is to say, anything but learning.

Grade deflation is not just a matter of students’ feelings or fairness. It is an issue of justice – that is to say, the role of universities in either reinforcing or challenging structural inequalities. For one thing, as researchers like Annette Lareau have consistently shown, upper middle class students come to schools like Princeton not just advantaged in their academic skills, but also advantaged with extra-academic skills, particularly with respect to relating to authority and accessing services. Let me make this more concrete: we have every reason to believe that rich white kids are more likely to bitch about their B+ and get it raised to an A-. Working class kids are more likely to just take it, because that’s what we train working class kids to do—take what’s given to them.

Grade inflation not only worsens stratification within universities, but between them. Debates about grade deflation at Princeton nearly always contrast Princetonians’ GPAs to those of our “competitor institutions”—that is to say, the laughably high grades given out at Harvard and Yale. But Princeton students are not just “competing” with other Ivy Leaguers for Rhodes Scholarships and spots at U Penn Medical School. They are “competing” with other college graduates in the much broader universe of graduate school admissions and the labor market.

Most of Princetonians’ “competitors” come from public universities with lower grades. Although grades at public and private institutions were once comparable, and both have inflated grades significantly since the 1960s, private schools have done it more. This gap emerged precisely at the time that the position of expensive private colleges were threatened by well-funded, and cheaper, public ones. As one Dartmouth professors explained it, “we began systematically to inflate grades, so that our graduates would have more A’s to wave around.” It worked: admissions officers at graduate institutions systematically favor students who come from grade-inflated schools, even when candidates are otherwise equal. Although flagship public universities have subsequently followed suit, even after controlling for “talent level,” grades at private institutions are .1 to .2 points higher. The structural conditions of the modern public university–minimal face time with professors, huge classes, heavier reliance on testing over papers, pressures to weed out students universities can no longer afford to teach, less construction of students as paying private “consumers” who can be “dissatisfied”—makes bargaining for grades more difficult.

Of course, many Princeton students predictably insist that they produce better work than students at other institutions where grades are lower. But I find this utterly unimpressive. Princeton students have access to resources and instruction way beyond those of the vast majority of American college students. Shouldn’t our grades reflect what we, as individuals, make of the very real advantages that Princeton offers us, rather than, say, rewarding us for having those advantages in the first place?

Going back was the best of times, going back was the worst of times

Perhaps because the novelty—by which I mean an alcohol-accentuated tincture of horror and awe—has worn off, I’m not coming away from my fifth reunion with the same crazed list of stories as I had after, say, my Freshman year. There were no drunken alumni saving me from arrest at the hands of Mohawk-profiling P-safe officers; no rambling stories from Bill Fortenbaugh ’58 about the hookers we could expect at his 70th birthday party; no thieving of giant inflatable monkeys from the 35th (I’m still unclear about how that one happened).

Still, I think I “did” reunions pretty well. I went through the P-Rade with the band no less than three times and felt like I played my heart out despite dancing too energetically to read the music for songs I had never played before. I ran into my thesis adviser in a heavily inebriated state on Poe Field. I managed a temporary coup d’etat and convinced the percussion section to start “Children of Sanchez” for the umpteenth time. I swam in the fountain, got a 4:00 a.m. “Eggplant Parm without the Parm” from Hoagie Haven, and stayed up for a reunions sunrise (a first!). And my antics in the band office led one undergraduate officer—perhaps not realizing how much I would treasure the comment—to say that I really was the “hot mess” of band lore.

I list stories and antics and happenings because I always hope that, by adding them up, they will sum to three days of consistent and straightforward happiness. And, for most people, it seems like they do: my facebook feed has been dominated for days with comments about the “best damn place of all” and the sheer joy of revisiting our alma mater. I imagine there’s a certain amount of posturing in that, but I more-or-less believe the sentiments are genuine. I wish I shared them, though.

Somewhere between the moments of blasting away on trumpet and catching up with my best friend on the deck of Terrace, there were what seemed like interminable periods of wandering around alone at the 5th, avoiding eye contact and fearing conversation. I hadn’t initially expected to spend the entire weekend with the band—not even most band alums do that—but then I realized that the alternative was walking around campus by myself, not sure if I did or didn’t want anyone to see me. It’s not that I’m not incredibly fortunate to have great friends from my class: only that interacting with them, with the attendant sense of “losing” them again as soon as the weekend was over, was hard for me to bear.

Depression is, in so many ways, all about struggling with your past. For some, it’s past trauma. For me, it’s an idealized sense of past happiness that I alternate between desperately want to relive—not in the “telling stories with old friends” sense, more the “build a time machine” sense—and wipe from my mind. When I walk around Princeton, I’m not sad because I see the room where I used to cut myself, the health center where I had to inter myself Freshman year, or the street where my roommate had to pull me away from oncoming traffic. No: I’m sad because I’m constantly thinking about the sense of wonder and meaning and community that I had there and yet never really managed to appreciate and which, at Berkeley, seems so impossibly out of reach.

Being me, I told myself this was my last reunion. Not in the sense that it’ll actually be my last, but the last where I feel like I can actually have conversations with undergraduates, play with the band, or dance drunkenly until 4 a.m. It also feels like my last because I’ve chosen to make coming back a logistical absurdity, whether I’m in France or California or England or anywhere else. I feel jealous of the people who can maintain a connection to Princeton after they graduate, and I frequently fantasize about coming back for a road trip or two each football season, but I’ve realized that I burn my bridges with the past every two years because I probably couldn’t get by any other way.

For me, at least, there’s wisdom that comes from the experience, and not just angst, which makes writing about it on my 27th birthday seem less pathetic and more edifying. When I first started to recover, I followed a pretty rigidly Benthamite pleasure-maximizing strategy, avoiding anything that might make me feel bad. Now that I know that I can break down a bit without falling of the deep end, though, I am realizing that depression can be part of the normal flow of experience—that it’s okay to go back and laugh and dance like an idiot and play trumpet and bask in the warmth of good friends and, yes, cry a little bit.

 

“I Don’t Actually Hate Bankers” and Other Thoughts on the Open Letter (Part 1)

With all the time I spend reading Marx with other graduate students and talking revolution with other activists, I occasionally forget that my world is largely populated by people who don’t share my particular line of leftist politics.  I’ve been reminded of the political diversity of my friends during conversations about the open letter which a group of alumni wrote in support of Occupy Princeton.  Caveats within the letter’s message that were clear in my activist brain are, understandably, not obvious to others.

I’ve written this post to respond to some criticisms—both voiced and unvoiced—that could be and have been made about the form of the open letter, in the hopes that it will allow us to talk more about its substance: the question of the appropriate role of finance on campus and Princeton’s response to growing economic inequlity.*

“Investment bankers are not bad people; why are you attacking them?”  Princeton graduates working in finance—like Princeton graduates who go on to do more school, become fellows at Teach for America, or work in other industries—are not good or bad people; they’re just people.  I know that Princetonians go into finance for all sorts of reasons: some like the challenge, others the money, and still others because they see the industry as playing a valuable role in our society.  I have friends who work in finance, and I certainly don’t think I’m “better” than them: after all, reading social theory in graduate school isn’t exactly saving the world either.  But institutions matter, and there is now ample evidence that the milieu of Wall Street has created cultures of excessive risk-taking and hyper-competitiveness which have proven themselves to be harmful both to society and the people taking part in them.  

“What Occupy Princeton did was really rude!” As Michael Lewis pointed out in his recent column on Occupy Princeton, an easy way to ignore the substance of a message is to criticize the way it is delivered.  I have some misgivings about the way Occupy groups are using “Mic Checks” to shut down events, but let’s keep some perspective: we live in a society where millions of dollars from anonymous donors can be poured into nasty attack ads and protesters are being beaten, gassed, and shot while peaceably assembling.  The fact that Occupy Princeton’s three minute interruption in a recruiting event might have made some people uncomfortable is not a good reason to ignore it.  Princeton students ought to be made of sterner stuff.

“Wouldn’t it have been better to hold a debate about finance?”  No, it wouldn’t have.  In my time at Princeton, I helped organize a number of debates and lectures on vegetarianism, nearly all of which were poorly attended.  Why?  Because people generally don’t seek out situations where they’re going to be told they’re doing something wrong.  Certainly, I doubt that stressed Princeton seniors would be interested in hearing about how they should not take jobs in one of the few industries still hiring.  But sometimes people do need to be shown the implications of their decisions, and at times the only way to do so is through confrontation.

“Why kick J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs off campus? Shouldn’t we be trying to engage with them more constructively?”  Bankers are well aware that most Americans loathe their industry (although banks are still slightly more popular than Congress and Fidel Castro).  Rather than make a public case for the value of finance, though, institutions like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs have used backdoor influence to thwart overwhelmingly popular efforts at financial regulation.  When Occupy Wall Street started, these same institutions engaged in ad hominem attacks on protesters—deriding them as unwashed, lazy hippies—rather than countering the substance of the protesters’ message.  Given the unwillingness of these institutions to even entertain the idea that they need to reform, the best course of action is to challenge their bottom line—by pinching their top source of employees—and force them to get serious about their obligations to society.

“But Princeton students have a right to work where they want!”  We throw around “rights” too much.  In my time at Princeton, I was told that people have a “right” to eat meat every day of the week, a “right” to have a tray (not just a plate!) in the dining hall, and a “right” to make six figures straight after graduation.  But what if I say I have a “right” to go to a school that does not offend my values by reinforcing income inequality?  Throwing around the “r” word not only cheapens real rights—think, free speech or due process—but also shuts down the possibility of debate or compromise.  All of us have rights, but we also have responsibilities: our conversation should be about what duties we have as Princeton graduates entering a world in which we are incredibly privileged and, as a result, poised to do much more than just make money.

“It’s not Princeton’s job to tell students what they should do after graduation.”  Princeton offers its students a world-class education, which—even for students paying full tuition—is largely funded by others.  In exchange, it imposes certain obligations on members of the community to behave in certain ways and to fulfill certain requirements.  There would therefore be nothing drastic or new about telling grossly misbehaving financial companies to take recruiting off campus; it’d simply be an extension of existing standards that Princeton has about who gets access and support from Princeton.  This isn’t about where graduates are “allowed” to work, but which organizations and institutions get to receive Princeton’s institutional blessing.

“You’re not going to change anything, so why are you wasting your time?”  As I’ve written over and over again on this blog, cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Our conviction that things are unchangeable is a big part of what prevents change from happening, since it provides easy cover for those of us who don’t want to act even when we know we should.  Princeton obviously does change, albeit slowly.  I was recently contacted by an alumnus who mentioned how, in the 1980s, people demanding that the university divest from apartheid were derided as wasting their time on a fool’s errand.  History proved them wrong.  Princeton can either join a national movement to rethink the place of finance in society—or it can, once again, be a laggard, and make Harvard look positively dynamic by comparison.

- – – – -

* I speak only for myself here, not for the 70+ other individuals who have signed the letter.  Have you yet?  Send me an e-mail!

Even Princeton

It so happens that the very night Occupy Princeton mic checked J.P. Morgan, I myself was talking about Princeton—or, more specifically, avoiding talking about Princeton.  A cohort-mate introduced me to one of her friends, and she asked me where I went to school before Berkeley.  As per usual, I mumbled something about Central New Jersey.and attempted to change the subject.  My friend wasn’t having it, though: “He went to Princeton”, she said.

My secret out, I offered my stock derision of my alma mater.  Did you know that there are eating clubs where you have to do ten interviews for admission, in a process that’s actually called “bicker”?  Have you heard about how Princeton got sued because so many of the students from its school for public policy went to work for hedge funds?  Or that upper-classmen put on double-popped collars, play croquet, and smoke cigars outside the site where newly admit pre-frosh congregate, just so incoming students start off with the right impression?  The implicit message, as always, was that if she thinks Princeton students are a bunch of over-privileged douchebags, she’s probably right.

The funny thing, though, is that I myself don’t even believe the stereotypes I’m conveying.  When I think of Princeton, I don’t think about eating clubs or polo shirts.  In my mind, “Princeton” is the professor who came into my first class freshman year and announced she had been kicked out of the prison system for teaching Marxism, the misfits who welcomed me into the marching band, and the young activists who strong-armed me into going vegan my sophomore year.  When I sing “In Praise of Old Nassau”, I mean it: it’s just that I’m thinking about the group of upperclassmen who took me to punk shows in Asbury Park when I was a lonely freshman, the old alumni who decided to give a scholarship to a kid who spent his hour long interview talking about anarchism, and the sociology professor who told me to follow my passions into a dumpster.

There are, of course, people at Princeton who are assholes from the second they set foot on campus.  But I truly believe, as Occupy Princeton said in their mic check, that most Princeton students don’t come to campus wanting to work for Goldman Sachs.  A significant minority, like me, arrive completely unaware of Princeton’s reputation as “the country club of the Ivy League.”  By the time we get to Princeton, though, most of us are hardwired to constantly look for the most exclusive eating club, the most selective major, and the most prestigious job.  The sad fact is, if you’re a Princeton freshman looking for role models, the most successful people you see are the ones going into finance.

And so Princeton’s reputation for elitism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The people who have no qualms about turning a half-million dollar education into a six-figure salary are also the people who are oblivious enough to wear Princeton on their sleeve.  The rest of us are afraid to associate ourselves with a name that others have made synonymous with greed and exclusivity, filled with guilt about the benefits we have accrued from a place we claim to hate.  The progressive alumni keep away from reunions, and by extension, each other: after all, it would be a bit incongruous if we expended much effort on a community that we are constantly bitching about.  The result is that a minority—and yes, it really is a minority—of Princeton students get to define what Princeton is to most of the world, and, in so doing, control the meaning of one of the most momentous four-year-periods of our lives.

Don’t get me wrong: Princeton has an awful history.  There is an important conversation to be had about whether Princeton should exist at all—if there really is a place in our society for such a lavish educational experience while public education is being cut to the bone.  But so long as Princeton does exist, those of us who have benefited from it ought to be able to have an open debate about how we can best use that privilege.  But before that can even happen, we need to challenge the basic narrative—that many of us alumni are ourselves perpetuating—that Princeton is an unredeemable, reactionary hell hole.

I’m glad that Occupy Princeton directed their message at the banks: their action had incredible power because, as so many media outlets seemed to say, even Princeton seems to be waking up.  But for me personally, the message they conveyed was one I’ve yet to find the courage to say:

Mic Check! /

We at Princeton /

Are not all assholes /

Some of us /

Are just twenty-somethings /

Who got lucky /

And are trying to figure out /

How to do some good

An Open Letter to the Princeton Community

After the tigers of Occupy Princeton mic-checked recruiting events for Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, a few concerned alumni collaboratively drafted an Open Letter to Princeton Community to send to the Princeton Alumni Weekly and the university administration.  If you are an alum and want to sign it, shoot me an e-mail (also, let me know if you want to be on our e-mail list, discussing further actions that could be taken along this vein).

Bringing concerns about income inequality and economic injustice into the heart of American privilege is itself a good thing; as a Princeton alum, I also think it’s important to seize on this moment to try to change a deeply problematic culture of entitlement on campus (exhibit A-Z).  No letter drafted by a group of people is ever going to express any individual’s views perfectly.  I hope, though, that people who agree with the spirit of Occupy Princeton’s action will consider adding their names in support.

For those who can’t open links, the text is below.

- – – – -

To the Princeton Community:

When we were at Princeton, we were often reminded that Princeton’s motto is ‘In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.’ Despite this ideal, we have discovered that to many outside the Orange Bubble, Princeton symbolizes something much less noble: greed, privilege, and elitism. We believe that part of this perception stems from Princeton’s strong institutional support for careers in the financial services sector, an industry that includes firms like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, which have taken billions of dollars in public money and used it to pay excessive bonuses and manipulate our political system to their own advantage.

We applaud the students of Occupy Princeton for challenging Princeton’s dominant culture of political disengagement. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your peers and speak uncomfortable truths. Princeton graduates are entitled to work in the industry of their choosing, but if they do choose to work in finance, they should know they are entering an industry with a condemning historical record of breaching public trust and engaging in practices that run directly counter to Princeton’s motto. We believe that the Occupy Princeton protests send an important message to these financial institutions about the University’s values and serve to educate students considering a career in finance.

The burden of showing that Princeton University is more than an elite playground should not fall on the shoulders of students alone. The administration should support—not discipline—those students who are attempting to bring Princeton into a much-needed national conversation about income inequality and economic justice.  Moreover, we urge the administration to stop providing institutional support for recruiting on campus by the worst offenders of the financial industry, such as J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs, until they show that they meet basic standards of accountability and economic fair play.

Lastly, we call on fellow alumni to join us in making it clear to current undergraduates that there are better ways to use the immense privilege of a Princeton education. We say this not just to encourage students to look outside of finance, but also to suggest that they use the skills and connections they have developed at Princeton to achieve positive good from within financial careers.

It’s time to decide whether ‘the nation’s service’ refers to the entire nation, or just 1% of it.

Signed:

New Family

This week saw a new addition to the Sachs Scholarship family.  We are a small tribe—the scholarship has existed for 40 years, and only one person has been chosen in all years except one—and it is really exciting to have a new member among us.  (Seriously, check out Veronica—what a brain wave!)

 

The announcement of the new scholar is also a marker, a fixed point in time that allows me to measure how my time at Oxford has changed me.  Two years ago, of course, I was floating on cloud nine when—after being rejected by the Rhodes and the Marshall—I was finally ‘chosen’.  One year later, though, the announcement of the new scholar came at a nadir.  The early sanguinity of being in this place was just starting to wear off, and the reality of being a small fish in a big, unfamiliar academic pond was just setting in.  Reading about Josh—the new scholars—incredible accomplishments as an activist and community member at Princeton just made me feel like a fraud.

 

This year, things couldn’t be more different.  It certainly helps that Josh is here, and while he’s actually more inspiring than I thought, I’m no longer worrying about whether I was ever ‘worthy’.  As I look over Veronica’s mind-blowing resume, I have the sense of self to realize that someone else being impressive doesn’t make me not so; it just means I’m different.  And I guess that has been the key to finding happiness at Oxford; I am, at long last, at peace with my limitations and willing to acknowledge my strengths.

 

It’s hard to explain what has made this term so great.  Most of my time has been spent buried in a GRE study book or filling out tedious PhD applications.  When I finally had a chance to stop thinking about the future—about two weeks ago, when my last application to the University of Michigan went in—I realized that life is absolutely fabulous.  This term, I’ve had my first ever academic publication skirt through peer review; I cracked the code for writing an Oxford essay (rule #1: cite Foucault early and often); I even realized that class in my department could be engaging and exciting.  As always, some of the best parts have had nothing to do with learning: I stroked my first rowing race, and, with the boat club, cut a swathe of destruction through downtown Cambridge on a Saturday night.

 

So, more than anything else, what I feel for my new family member is jealousy.  I’m excited for the future, but I could go for a bit more time here.  I feel like I have just recently cracked the code to Oxford, and yet I’m already forced to think about moving on.

Going Back; Moving On

Every time I go back to Princeton, the entire thing feels like a non-stop personal examination.  While I should just enjoy my precious few days on campus, I find myself spending the balance of time agonizing over how it is, exactly, I am supposed to relate to my alma mater.  I am I supposed to feel sad or elated to be back?  Should I go for the humorous-if-sketchy persona, or try to show that I’ve grown up a bit?  And what am I supposed to say about the real world*: that it’s a non-stop barrel of laughs, or that I cry myself to sleep at night longing for the undergraduate glory days?

The first time I go back this year, I feel nothing.  It’s the day after I returned from Ecuador, and I run along the tow path from Jackie’s house in Lawrenceville onto Princeton’s campus.  Aside from a handful of inexplicable changes—did they put a new archway into Brown Hall just to give alums something to whine about?—everything looks the exact same.  And yet I am not overcome with the wave of nostalgia I was expecting.  The undergrads aren’t yet back from their summer vacation, and the emptiness of campus reminds me that my best and worst memories of Princeton have nothing to do with gothic buildings.

Two Saturdays ago, I went back again—except this time, not to Princeton, but to the band.  At first I am elated, because after about five minutes it doesn’t seem to even matter that I am graduated.  More than anything, though, Saturday made me feel relieved.  In part, I am relieved to see that the band has not fallen apart, and, in fact, is thriving.  But I’m also relieved that, even if it were falling apart, I’m not sure it would be the end of the world.  I am not worried about what the officers are doing, or whether the new members are having a good time, or how it will all look in the eyes of athletics.  I am, for an afternoon, a freshman again: I can dance and sing like an idiot and not care what anyone else thinks.

I feel like a freshman again Saturday night, at the Triangle Show, but this time not in a good way.  By my senior year, I found at least mildly amusing the skits and songs celebrating how fabulously isolated and rich and preppy Princeton is.  With a bit more detachment, though, I am taken aback—and remember why, when I first arrived, I didn’t feel like I fit in.  On Sunday, I go to lawnparties—an event I rarely made it to as a student—and can’t help but feel grateful for the fact that I no longer have to look at the J-Crew-clad army again and think, “These are my peers.”  I actually wind up leaving lawnparties early and going to Marquand library to work.  Peering over a dense book of sociological theory to watch people stagger back from the street on a Sunday—now that makes me feel like an undergraduate again.

Striking the right balance when going back is hard enough that I am realizing that, perhaps, it is easier not to go back at all.  And, of course, Princeton is doing its part to nudge me out the door.  Graduation doesn’t actually mark a clean break.  For a few years, you can still make it back and steal a few moments where it feels as if you’ve never left.  But then they change the ID card, so you can’t getinto the library anymore.  They block off the places you used to sneak into, and they reorder things enough that it doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.  Eventually, all your friends graduate, and the new students don’t particularly want to listen to your stories about six, seven, eight years ago anymore.  Your antics stop being funny in a nostalgic sort of way: they’re just pathetic.

And it’s realizing that—that this really might be my last visit to Princeton outside of reunions—that makes me incredibly sad.  It really is over, and, regardless of what the song says, you can’t actually go back.  I’ve spent so much time trying to forget about Princeton and get over it that I almost forgot how much I love this place.

* By “real world”, I obviously mean, “the other fake world: Oxford.”