Large Crowd of Princetonians
Greet President Eisgruber '83 in NYC

By Howard Zien '71, Class Treasurer


On Monday November 16, President Eisgruber was the featured and well-received speaker at Chelsea Piers on the extreme Westside of Manhattan. Since our graduation in 1971, I have been a New Yorker and have attended numerous events at the Pier. These include ice skating, youth soccer and basketball and a host of other athletic activities. But I had never attended a ceremony, banquet, reception or presentation there.


President Eisgruber's event was all of these, and more. This is not only my opinion. I was merely one of over 1,300 Princetonians representing what appeared to be every class. With a group of this size, hopefully I can be forgiven for not locating, let alone connecting with any of our classmates.


We gathered in a very large reception area overlooking the Hudson River and the Jersey Shore off in the distance. It was 6pm so the sun had long since retired for the evening. The view over the water consisted primarily of the distant lights, their reflection in the gentle current of the Hudson River and the occasional utility or sightseeing boat floating by.


As I have come to expect from prior events of this type, the variety of food and drink prior to the speech were beyond my already heightened expectations. It seems with each event that the organizers surpass their prior efforts. And it all seems so effortless.


At 7pm we migrated to the adjoining room for the presentation. In addition to the President himself, there were 4 or 5 large screens with his presence featured larger than life. I have seen President Eisbruber make several presentations over the years and I am continually impressed by his enthusiasm, energy and dynamism. He seems to step from behind the academic podium and reach out to each of the attendees.


His presentation was organized in three parts.


Princeton accomplishments


These included a recounting of successful efforts on the athletic field by Princeton men and women alike. These also included the designation of Princeton Professor Angus Deaton as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.


Campus Life


I attended a similar event in 2014. This was President Eisgruber's first. At that event last year every attendee was give a paperback book as they left the event and headed home. The subject of the book was The Honor Code. At that time, I had no idea why we were issued the book. And I sheepishly confess I have still not read it.


This year, we were also issued a book, one entitled Whistling Vivaldi. But this year, the President's speech put the book in perspective. It turns out that, three months ago in September of 2015, this book was sent to all incoming Freshmen. Their assignment was to read the book and come to campus prepared to discuss it. President Eisgruber even crashed a few of the discussions to teach and learn about the experience.


In his presentation at Chelsea Piers President Eisgruber wryly noted that his presentation was not a book review, but he knows that in every group of 1,300 Princetonians, there are always one or two who do not do the assignment.


It turns out that this book was written by a black man who attended the University of Chicago. When he walked about after dark, others he encountered would perceive him as a potential threat to their safety and well-being. They would often cross the street, tense up, or otherwise convey a clear sense of discomfort. By accident, or perhaps out of fear himself, the young man began to whistle Vivaldi's Four Seasons...and he was quite a good whistler.


His whistling completely relaxed the strangers that he encountered. Most of them smiled, exchanged friendly and knowing nods of recognition, even respect and admiration.


The book goes on to explore the social and psychological dynamic that we all encounter and face every day. It does so in scientific terms. And the Princeton campus, as a microcosm of our larger society, is no exception.


Suffice it to say that this year, I was given the book on my way out, I read the book and found it to be as illuminating as advertised.


Woodrow Wilson


The third part of President Eisgruber's presentation was devoted to the discussion of the legacy of Woodrow Wilson. On Campus, and also in the news media, his legacy is being challenged. His positive accomplishments have been well known for decades. But recently his social and political views are being questioned, challenged and even vilified.


This discussion reminded me of our years in College back in the late sixties and early seventies. Then as now, it was and is impossible to prevent "real world" thoughts from seeping into the fabric of campus life. In our day it was Vietnam. Today, it is other issues.


It is difficult to get an impartial perspective on these types of events. It was true back then. And it is certainly true today. I get my first hint of news every morning with a quick glimpse of Google News. Then I move on to more in-depth coverage. On many mornings I see a Google clip about the Woodrow Wilson controversy. And I wonder if all 330 million Americans are seeing this same clip or is this news being filtered, sliced and diced by Google for my individualized ready consumption.


Q and A


With that, there was a perfunctory question and answer session and the formal presentation ended. The attendees retired to the reception hall for sweets and coffee.


Shortly thereafter, with my Whistling Vivaldi book in hand, I headed home nourished in both mind and body. I was indeed proud to be part of the Princeton experience.


In retrospect, I had one lingering observation. It is impossible to make good coffee for 1,300 people.

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