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by Peter Moskos

April 23, 2012

Tiger Tiger Tiger, Siss Siss Siss, Boom Boom Boom, meh.

Caleb Kennedy wrote a nice feature on me for the Daily Princetonian.
“I was not particularly happy at Princeton,” [Moskos] said, explaining that he felt much of the student body came from a “New England prep school culture” that he was not used to.
But I loved my professors. And one of them called me a "star student." It makes me beam.


Anonymous said...


How does someone like yourself who seems to come off as a pretty cool and affable guy on TV and on this blog have trouble fitting in with preppies? Did it have to do with your maturity at the the time?

Are the Northeastern prep school kids really numerous enough at the Ivy League schools to dominate the social life there? If these schools so value diversity as they claim why don't they cap enrollment from these schools?

Which class did you find it easier to fit in with your Princeton class or your police academy class?

-From Canada

PCM said...

I don't know. Maybe it had to do with my immaturity at the time. Or that my "diverse" public-school education was hardly typical of anything but Evanston, Illinois.

And though I hesitate to say I was more mature than my fellow students, I did have more life experience (through work and travel and growing up in Chicago).

Mostly, I couldn't (and still can't) get over the sense of rich entitlement that so many Princeton students have. And I couldn't stand to see the way students could be condescending towards university workers -- hard-working elders I was raised to talk to and be respectful toward. And I remember after the first school break when so many students came back tan and felt no shame in talking about their expensive Caribbean vacations homes. It wasn't that they were gloating; it was the opposite: they thought it was normal.

And yes, when you combine 50% private school and an (un)healthily large jock culture (in part because Princeton is kind of small but still has all the sports teams), they do dominate social life.

And a lot of the rest were asocial nerds. (I mean that as short-hand descriptive and not to be disparaging--I'm kind of nerdy myself.) Where were the people who studied hard but also knew how to have a good time and wanted to talk about the intellectual issues of the day, and do so over a beer?

I was troubled by how many students at Princeton, for instance, had no desire to go to New York and walk around one of the world's great cities. I also learned that the last train from New York back to Princeton left at 11:45pm.

Also, Princeton is a rich suburb and horrible "college town." Great place to open a bank account or baby overpriced baby clothes, not so good to go on a date. And once the Woolworth's closed, there was nowhere to buy a white t-shirt or underwear or anything cheap.

My 1st-semester freshman year roommate (I managed to get rid of him after one semester) was typical of so much I didn't like. He was a lying, cheating, stealing, snoring prep-school kid. He was also quite stupid. Shockingly so. Like not-all-there stupid. He did almost no work and then would plead with and lie to professors to pass him. I think he was eventually put on probation and suspended. But I checked a while back. And even he managed to graduate. Everybody graduates. The "gentleman's C" is still alive. But not it's a gentleman's B-.

This guy also came in with his prep-school social world all laid out for him. Everybody had their little stupid prep-school nickname and they knew far too many people on the lacrosse and ice-hockey teams. To make matters worse, he also seemed to get laid more than me. Life isn't fair.

PCM said...

Part of the problem is that I initially tried, as one should, to fit in. I went on Outdoor Action before freshman year. I played intra-murals. I sang and danced in musicals. I went out on weekends. Everybody else seemed so happy. Why wasn't I?

Schools like Princeton value *superficial* racial, geographic, and international diversity. There's no attempt to recruit from working-class backgrounds or inner-city high schools, for instance. It’s about money. And keep in mind I was a legacy child (my father was class of '56). So I benefited from this system.

Ironically, both my father and my wife got into Princeton (in part) because they were from New Mexico. My father more so. He was a pure geographic affirmative-action baby. They wanted one person from New Mexico, went to Albuquerque High School (go Bulldogs!), and picked him.

[My father was always proud of his affirmative action status. And he did pretty good at Princeton and in life. But he always liked to point out that because he was from New Mexico, some smart Jewish kid from New York City didn't get in.]

My wife much more than my father actually earned her admittance. But being from New Mexico or Wyoming or the Dakotas does not hurt your chances. But there are only 15 or so affirmative action states (in each class, one student comes from each). And there are 1,300 incoming students.

Finally, my senior year I isolated myself in Terrace, the liberal eating club, worked there, hung out there, played pinball there, and isolated myself with a small group of friends (one of whom I would marry 11 years later).

Certainly, objectively, in social and economic and educational terms, I was closer to my Princeton class than I was to my police academy class. And yet I liked my police academy much more and did find it much easier to fit it. And though my two closest friends are from Princeton (both of whom, interestingly, also went to large public high schools), over the years I’ve stayed in touch with far more friends from the Baltimore police department.

PCM said...

This comes from Anthony Grafton's review of Andrew Delbanco book, College (Princeton Press), in the New York Review of Books (May 24, 2012):

As a student of mine from Crown Heights once remarked, at a time when Princeton seemed chiefly interested in extending the range of communities it drew on, "There's more diversity in one block where I live than in a dozen suburbs with their country day school." ... (my own university currently has two undergraduate veterans enrolled, a number I do not cite with pride).

Worst of all, he argues that the ludicrously competitive admissions process... leaves the winners with a sense that they have earned their places by their own abilities and efforts. Unlike the Roosevelts and Kennedys who knew that their social position had won them their places, they do not feel the humility and gratitude that they should--and that made their well-born predecessors embark on lives of service.