Thursday, May 12, 2011

Not so wild a dream iii

Readers of this page may be assured that several of its more disagreable entries have yet to appear. There is time, even now, to go out for popcorn; today's tale is quite mundane. A Mongolian lady engineer wrote in to the Times - part, evidently, of a continuing series - on how she resolved the dilemma of whether to matriculate at Dartmouth College or Princeton. Some 250 years after Mr Madison arrived at the latter college with his slave, Jennings, it was remarkable to hear that the social conditions of the place seemed to give the lady pause. Some reputations are harder to transform than Richard Nixon's, it seems; sad news for us all.

In the end, she finds she is willing to risk herself on Princeton, she tells us, to get her degree fast, hot, and tasty. So had Madison, for that matter, skipping a year but then lingering another, under the mentorship of Dr Witherspoon. Who knows what course her venture may take? An impressive command of purpose infuses her calculations at this time, but so had they for Madison, whose absence from Montpelier was not helpful to its flourishing. But that she takes it as a given, that there may be two Princetons in that other, tiresome and legendary sense, is fascinating to discover in an engineering student, whose regimen is the most neo-monastic in its concentration and isolation, of any at the college. For this, career-driven mission, she sounds fully ready; yet she has her mind on the wrong duality.

She has been misguidance-counseled to adopt the idea of using the place, as opposed to using the time. To the first temptation, any of the colleges on her list would be only too lavishly responsive. But to exploit the time, all of the better ones are diffident, because their ultimate resource is their people, with whom it is within her power to form the most constructive relationships she has ever known - or not. These manifest purposes of the college experience are not, like degrees, products to be vended off the shelf, and they do not yield to demand. If she has to go to Princeton to discover this, one only hopes she does.


  1. There is an inscription over a Roanoke College dormitory that
    reads, "We are not here for a long time; we are here for a good time".
    The scoundrel credited with this statement was almost kicked out of
    school as the story goes...but as an alumnus funneled quite a bit of
    money back into the institution, which in turn clouded the college's
    recollection of his transgressions - or perhaps vandalism is simply in
    the eye of the beholder. In a rare moment of insight the college saw
    that a use of time and not place resulted in the kinds of alumni that
    would later support their alma mater financially. I suppose it is as
    true at Princeton as it is anywhere that the halls of a freshman dorm
    echo with requests for mischief, to which the Roanoke College board of
    visitors has carved into stone, "Permission granted".

  2. I went to a college which realised, as soon as its earliest students began pitching cannonballs down its corridors at night, it was hopeless to constrain youth. So it decided to make it incurable. It sounds as if there's one in Virginia which has mastered the revenge of the great college. :)