By Natalie Fahlberg ’18
When most people think of Princeton, they probably think of Brooks Brothers, croquet, and elitism. Before matriculating, I really didn’t believe that these stereotypes would be true. However, they came alive during my first Lawnparties experience. All of the upperclassmen told me prior to last Sunday:
“Lawnparties is the best day of the year!”
“Lawnparties is the best thing about Princeton!”
“Lawnparties will be the best part of your Freshman experience!”
Let me first mention the many positive aspects of Lawnparties. It was a beautiful day, the upperclassmen were welcoming, and the music was stellar (special thanks to Tower for reminding me of how awesome JoJo is). I personally had a fantastic time, and was really impressed with the music, how happy everyone was, and the day in general.
Although there was so much potential for Lawnparties to be as enjoyable as I was promised, there was one aspect of the day that seriously made me question the whole tradition. What unsettled me about Lawnparties was how some freshmen thought they needed to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and even speak a certain way.
My boyfriend, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, came for the weekend, because I wanted him to experience Princeton and understand why I love it so much. I can’t tell you how many comments he received about Penn being “that huge state school,” or “a second tier Ivy.” One student we met while taking pictures in Prospect Garden even told my boyfriend, “oh, Penn, that was my safety school.” He wasn’t joking.
When people become elitist about the elite school they go to, there’s a problem. This attitude definitely constrains our worldview, and causes us not to think outside of the “Orange Bubble” and remember that there are many amazing schools out there besides Princeton. This may be why some people out there view Princetonians as preppy rich kids rather than genuine intellectuals.
My boyfriend took these comments with grace and a smile, but I have no doubt that he left on the Dinky that day very disappointed with Princeton. Frankly, I was embarrassed. I later told myself that there is little, if any, difference between the quality of a Penn education and the quality of a Princeton one. Why is everyone pretending there is? Why do people get satisfaction from being downright jerks to their equals from another school during Lawnparties?
While upperclassmen know that Lawnparties is a mockery of the Princeton stereotypes – many of them told me this beforehand – I don’t think some freshmen quite understood the joke. They feel obligated to act in a certain way, forgetting the irony of Lawnparties, making it a reality. Most of my friends went out and bought new outfits specifically for the day (I’ll admit, I bought a dress from Lilly Pulitzer in August with Lawnparties in mind, and I am no foreigner to the land of J. Crew).
But there definitely is a difference between dressing up in good fun and dressing up in order to perpetuate a self-fulfilling stereotype of preppy elitism. Many of my non-Princeton friends saw my photos of Lawnparties on Facebook and asked if Princeton kids always dress like this. It definitely is hard to explain this tradition to people who don’t understand that it’s supposed to be a joke. They just assume that it’s the standard for students here.
It seemed to me that most freshmen came into the year with a distorted view of how to act at Lawnparties, and at Princeton in general. If I’ve learned anything during my short time at Princeton, it’s that you don’t have to act, dress, or speak a certain way. I’ve met all kinds of people (from hipsters to jocks) who come from all kinds of backgrounds (from castles to slums). Princeton admissions officers carefully comb through 30,000 applications a year to create the incredible heterogeneity of this student body.
Lawnparties was fun — but my genuine hope is that it doesn’t define the rest of the Class of 2018’s attitude towards stereotypical Princeton elitism. If you like Vineyard Vines, great. If you don’t, that’s alright too! Everyone here is his or her own person, and that “good ole boy” Princeton is long gone. Ultimately, Lawnparties should be a day to dress up nicely and have fun, but not to fulfill the stereotype that others may have for our wonderful school.