“The arts” was a full-tilt sprint through four years of constant, pulse-pounding, creative stimulation.
So, I don’t really know what “the arts” means.
“The arts” sounds like four-hour ballets and inscrutable splotches of ink on canvases and prim performances of classical music where you get dirty looks if you clap between movements. Those weren’t “the arts” I found at Princeton. For me, “the arts” was facing off in a push-up competition against English professor Jeff Nunokawa on All-Nighter, a late-night talk show that my friends and I started.
“The arts” was taking a songwriting class with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, who bestowed upon us wisdom like “if you say the f-word once, you might as well say it a few times.” “The arts” was later competing with Professor Muldoon in an onstage pun-off in front of a cheering and jeering crowd. We tied.
“The arts” was waking up at 3 a.m. to fly to Chicago with Quipfire! (Princeton’s oldest improv comedy group) to compete in the College Improv Tournament, winning the crown of the best undergraduate team in the nation for our improvised scenes about a gun show and a wedding happening next to each other at a hotel, and then eating ice cream out of our trophy before we all collapsed in a nap pile.
“The arts” was watching a senior thesis production of The Producers that outstripped any professional performance I’ve seen, so good that my feelings of joy and wonder bubbled up so intensely they inexplicably sublimated into anger and I shook the actors by the shoulders and demanded to know why they created something so incredible.
“The arts” was staying up for 36 hours straight between the Friday and Saturday of Reunions to write a draft of the Triangle show and present it to the club’s trustees, then perform in an episode of All-Nighter, then improvise in a Quipfire! show—possibly the most euphorically creative period of my life, and certainly the most sleep-deprived.
“The arts” was a full-tilt sprint through four years of constant, pulse-pounding, creative stimulation. Princeton gave me enough opportunities to write, perform, and collaborate to fill 10 college careers, and I got to watch the finest, most interesting classmates enjoy the same. This was just a dream to me when I was growing up in a tiny town in Ohio, and now that it’s over, it feels like it may have been a dream after all.
Today, at the end of that sprint, I think differently— better, even—because of “the arts” at Princeton. I am a finer connoisseur of words and ideas, and better attuned to what is interesting and worthwhile. I am more prolific and tireless because Princeton expanded my appetite for creation and taught me to fear idleness.
That’s why I hope generations of Princeton students into perpetuity get to experience “the arts” like I did: challenging, overwhelming, invigorating, weird, confusing, but never off-over-there, never irrelevant, never routine. I hope “the arts” continue to stretch and bend and beguile students, to put an inflection point in their thinking, to push them beyond what they thought their limits were. I hope they sleep more, though.