I said this on Facebook last night, but I wanna expand on the idea today. Do y’all remember those old self-help books from the early 2000s, Chicken Soup for the ____________ Soul? I had like three different versions of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul when I was growing up. Books have always been one of my forms of salvation. These days, going back to campus is just as cathartic and rejuvenating.
I will never be able to name exactly what it was, but from the first time we visited Princeton’s campus when I was a junior in high school, my mother and I both felt it, that I could see myself there. It…fit. By fall break of freshman year, I was sitting in the house I grew up in itching to get back home.
Yesterday, I woke up from my nap as our chartered bus was on Route 1. As we got closer and closer to the jughandle to Alexander Road, I started getting more and more excited. After I got off the bus and started walking from Baker Rink to Quad for brunch, I stopped for a moment to just sigh. I got to Quad and suddenly there were so many of my friends smiling and running over and shouting my name. Everyone was so excited to be back together again!
I sat down and ate the same pancakes and bacon I’d been eating for years. I asked if there was any more room at this Quad table and everyone laughed. I even hugged Neville.
The alumni tailgate was like a mini Reunions. Soooooo much orange and black. Tables for various class years. Free-flowing beer and cool collectible cups. They even gave us temporary tattoos of the Princeton shield that said ALUMNI. It was awesome. I’d never seen the stands so packed when we got to the actual game. Cheering our Tigers on to an epic victory over the Bulldogs (which KB and I at one point referred to as “animal cruelty,” lol), I remembered what it feels like to be part of this huge collective.
I wandered downstairs during halftime to get a hot chocolate, and ran into 3749083740983 black folks. This is the best part of being back on campus, I think, when I can walk into a circle of people who look like me and whatever conversation was happening breaks into hugs and “How are you? Where are you? What are you up to?” Going back to campus is a chorus of care. It’s a horde of hugs. A gaggle of genuine interest. Going back to campus feels like a family reunion, every single time.
We flock back to this beautiful place, this place that helped make us who we are and get us to where we are now. We comment on how we’ll never live in a place this gorgeous again. We remark on all the things that have changed since we were here last. We reminisce. But mostly, we are aware of how welcome we feel here, like we never really let it go and it never really let us go either. We wear our gaudiest orange and black, embrace everyone we see, spend too much money at the U-Store, and in every sense of the world, feel as though we have come home after too long an absence.