Welcome to Princeton, Class of 2017! As a senior, I can assure you that your time at Princeton will be unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Your peers and professors will be some of the most brilliant and engaging people you will ever meet. The opportunities here for personal growth, intellectual stimulation, character development and making close connections with others are virtually limitless.
If you come from a conservative, rural part of the “Bible-belt” (as I did), you probably didn’t arrive at Princeton with this idyllic vision of an intellectual paradise. Multiple people from your hometown probably told you that you were headed into a lion’s den – that your liberal professors and peers would attempt to savage your conservative views at every opportunity and that you would be lucky to get out of Princeton with your principles intact. While that characterization is a bit hyperbolic, there’s some truth to it. Coming here as a conservative you will be overwhelmingly outnumbered by incredibly intelligent people who strongly disagree with you on most issues. Most of the people you interact with will be respectful of your views, but you will run up against tough arguments that you might not be able to refute instantaneously – and that’s a good thing.
One of the most important skills I’ve learned at Princeton is how to enjoy being in an ideological minority and grow through that experience. If you’re the only conservative in your politics precept or your “zee” group, I encourage you to speak up. Being outnumbered will teach you how to argue more persuasively and will lead you to a deeper understanding of your opponent’s beliefs as well as your own. It might even lead to a change in your beliefs or to a change in an opponent’s. Either way, being in an ideological or political minority not only helps improve your grasp of your beliefs, but it can also be really enjoyable. Once you get used to it, standing up for an unpopular opinion that you believe to be right is exciting. As G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”
I also want to address those of you who are not conservative. If you want to understand the intellectual conservative position on campus and on the national scene, you have the right magazine in your hands. This issue contains some of our best material from the 2012-2013 academic year, and it is just a sampling of what we produce and accomplish during a given year. We publish six full magazines per year, deliver them to every on-campus dorm room, run an active blog and facebook page, and sponsor large lectures and other events. There is definitely room for you to get involved in the vibrant community here at the Tory as well as in other political groups across campus. Whig-Clio, College Republicans, The James Madison Program, Princeton Progressive Nation and College Democrats are just a few of the active political groups on campus. There are many highly gifted people who would happily welcome you into the political community here, so I encourage you to get involved at the Tory or whichever other group suits your interests.
Finally, I want to wish you good luck in your upcoming semester. Princeton is full of joys and challenges, and I sincerely hope that you grow and become a better, more educated person through both.
David Byler ‘14