Greetings and Welcome, Class of 2018!
As I begin this letter, I fear that I will choke on all the standard welcome-to-campus cliches in this opening paragraph. To avoid platitudinal suffocation, let it suffice to say that we’re all glad you’re here, we look forward to meeting you, and, moreover, we hope that you will get involved with the Tory.
As you begin your first year, I would urge you to make a plan. Orientation disorients you. Classes may mire you even more. To say nothing of extracurricular demands. When things get going, it’s easy to get swept along with the tide. Prevent that with a plan.
Plan first for your education. Already, you likely perused the coreless course catalog, perhaps perplexed by the formless liberty resting in your hands. The only constraints seem to be some amorphous distribution requirements and the number of courses you can take.
Do not rely solely on your college-assigned academic advisor. He or she may well obfuscate rather than illuminate the best way to a good education here at Princeton. Do not be led astray by the “expand your horizons” mentality. Of course you should endeavor to learn things presently unfamiliar to you, step outside of your so-called “comfort zone,” and take advantage of the multifarious opportunities open to you. But do not take courses simply for novelty.Instead, take courses in classic disciplines about classic topics. Give more weight to a professor’s reputation for excellence than to an alluring course title and florid description. More on this in the Editors’ Guide (see page 9).
In tandem with planning for your education, plan also to cultivate virtue, unwavering principles, and soundness of character. Over orientation, surely you were inundated with exhortations to “be tolerant” and to “keep an open mind.” Both are dangerous snippets of partial wisdom, apt to stymie such virtue cultivation if not properly understood.
Be tolerant, without exception, of all people; all men and women share equally in human dignity, and so, are always meriting of our respect. But you need not tolerate false, insidious ideas or immoral action, even if cloaked in the language of “personal identity.” Don’t be fooled: the ideas and actions that personal identity supposedly encompass are not identical with a person. They are not sacrosanct. Do not let the people you meet or your tolerance thereof muddle your moral sense.
Keep an open mind—at least, until you find something to close it upon; let that something be truth. As the adage goes, if you keep too open a mind, your brains may well fall out. Open your mind only to discern the truth, and, once you have found it, clamp down hard. The wholly passive, osmotic mind is unprincipled, unlearning, and, worst of all, unappreciative of truth’s beauty. The mind receptive only to truth is a mind eager for virtue and hospitable to the development of firm principles.
So as you find your way through these next four years, assiduously seek truth in your studies, live by truth in virtue, and encourage others to do the same. In doing so, make a concrete plan; I assure you, it will make a difference. The opportunity to attend Princeton University is a wonderful blessing. Do not squander it; in the sense that the expression was originally meant, seize the day: carpe diem.
Have a great first year.
Thomas Z. Horton
The Princeton Tory