Into the Southern Forests

Every September, several hundred incoming freshmen participate in Princeton’s Outdoor Action (OA) program. They spend a week in the woods learning about their peers. Each group has 2-3 older students leading them.

Last spring, I took a series of classes in preparation for becoming an OA leader. The final part of the training consists of a weeklong backpacking trip to test one’s outdoor and leadership skills called a Leader Training Trip (LTT). I signed up to take this LTT during Intersession. To avoid the north’s cold weather, OA takes students to Ocala National Forest in Florida.

Day 1 (1/27)— My group met in one of the leaders’ dorms in the early afternoon. We gathered some group equipment, packed our gear, and then had Mehek for dinner. Everyone crammed into a small dorm room to sleep for the night.

Day 2 (1/28)— Our leaders woke us at 4:00 am. We marched over to Campus Club for breakfast and hopped on a bus bound for the Newark airport. Upon arrival, we passed through security for our flight to Orlando, Florida.

We took a bus from the Orlando airport to Ocala National Forest. Established in 1908, Ocala protects 607 square miles of the southernmost forest in the continental U.S. Two Princeton groups were dropped off at southern points, and my group was placed at the Salt Springs campground in the north.

After we set up our tents, a torrential downpour began. We took shelter in a nearby bathroom. For the next few hours, we ate food and practiced outdoor skills. I was appointed as the leader of the group for the following day along with another student. As we went to sleep that night, the rain continued to pelt our tents.

Day 3 (1/29)— My co-leader and I awoke at 5:30 am to prepare breakfast. But — after rummaging through everyone’s backpacks — we discovered that the group hadn’t packed stoves. Consequently, we ate a cold breakfast in the bathroom again.

After consulting with my co-leader, we decided to walk an additional four miles past the day’s scheduled destination to arrive at another campground with an OA rental car that had stoves. Fortunately, the rain ended in the morning, and we had a clear hike down to Hopkins Prairie. It was a wide open field of tall brown grass. Our campsite was located on a hummock sheltered by overarching trees. Spanish moss blanketed their branches. All of us settled in for a chilly night as the Sun set below the horizon.

Day 4 (1/30)— Since we were one day ahead of schedule, the leaders of the day decided to stay at the same camp and do a day hike. In the morning, we practiced first aid skills. By 11:00 am, we hit the trail to walk around Hopkins Prairie. Following lunch, we practiced missing person protocols.

We returned to camp just before dusk. Steam rose from the swamp as cold air fell upon its warm water. I was again appointed to be the leader of the day along with two other students.

Day 5 (1/31)— We departed from Hopkins Prairie for Pat’s Island in the morning. The OA program coordinator had told us that she left three full water jugs in the campground’s parking lot. When we arrived at 1:30 pm, we found that other people had already taken most of the water. I consulted with the other leaders of the day, and we decided to hike three miles further to a campsite that would put us within six miles of a water source that we could reach the next day.

We arrived at the Hidden Pond campground by nightfall. While we were eating dinner, we heard the other Princeton group — who also happened to be in a nearby campsite — start to make loud noises to scare off a bear. I later learned that they had been eating dinner when a bear walked up to their kitchen area and dragged away a backpack with food. After hearing there noises, we quickly packed our food and hoisted it up into bear bags.

Day 6 (2/1)— The bear had reached several of our bear bags and ate half of our remaining food. It left trash littered everywhere. We cleaned up the mess before leaving for the Juniper Springs campground. Our water reserves were depleted halfway through the hike, but we arrived at our destination in time.

Day 7 (2/2)— We left camp late in the day after several classes on technical skills. Our day hike went a couple of miles northward on the trail. One of our leaders had bought some more food the previous night, so we had a hearty dinner and s’mores for dessert.

Day 8 (2/3)— The group packed up camp and went to our departure point. Several of us, myself included, swam in Juniper Springs. A circular stone wall surrounded the spring to form a swimming pool. Although the air temperature was 60ºF, the spring stays 74ºF year-round. In the late afternoon, we took a bus to the airport, and our flight brought us back to Princeton by 1:30 am.


Photo Gallery


Weeks in Review 1/7-19/18

Thursday— As I walked back to Whitman College from Lewis Library, warm rain fell on the snow and frozen ground. This interaction created a mysterious fog that blanketed the campus around the gothic buildings. It looked like a scene from a movie.

Saturday— I played with the Princeton Band at the Cornell vs. Princeton basketball game, staying for the men’s and women’s games. Princeton clobbered Cornell in both matches. It wasn’t even close.

Monday— I played with the Band at the semiannual Dean’s Date Eve performance. We marched through the Frist Campus Center, and into the Firestone, J-Street, and Marquand Libraries. Most students seemed receptive of us, except for those in J-Street; that’s where fun goes to die.

An hour later, I stopped by Whitman’s late night breakfast for a plate full of tater tots. Afterward, I walked up to Holder Hall to watch the “Holder Howl.” At least 75 students gathered in the center of Holder courtyard to scream for one minute. It was the largest one that I have seen yet.

Tuesday— I joined the band for the third time for the Dean’s Date celebratory performance. We played some popular songs and started the final countdown until 5:00 pm when all semesterly assignments are due. There were some booths for giving away free food, but there were significantly fewer students attending this Dean’s Date celebration than the one in the spring.

USG organized a first-ever glow party in Dillon Gym at 10:00 pm – 1:00 am. There was a DJ, free food, and glow sticks. I went for a few minutes and laughed. It was the saddest party I have seen at Princeton. Like the Orange and Black Ball (OBB), there was a DJ at the back of the gym, and the food was at the front near the entrance. But, unlike OBB, everyone was clustered near the front away from the DJ. Everyone had exams in the next few days and didn’t want to celebrate too much, lest they are too tired to take their exams. Although USG gets an +A for effort and creative thinking, I think that the event fell flat.

Wednesday— The sophomore class government organized a panel to discuss upperclassmen dining options. It included a financial aid officer, representative from the housing department, co-op president, and the Interclub Council president, an student who coordinates rules and events between the eating clubs.

At the end of the event, a student in the back asked the ICC president, “It seems like eating clubs are very expensive and going independent is very cheap. In fact, you can even make money by getting a partial refund on your bill, if you receive a lot of financial aid, for going independent. Given that there’s a choice between making money by going independent and paying a lot of money to join an eating club, are eating clubs really worth it.” Everyone immediately quieted. The ICC president slowly said that the eating clubs are worth the cost for the food, community, and social events. I was dying on the inside. While his question was a very good one, it’s the Princeton social equivalent of me asking a Goldman Sachs recruiter about job security during a recession (which I did). It was the perfect cringeworthy question with a predictable reply from the ICC president.

Sunday— The ad-hoc committee on calendar reform sent a survey to undergraduates about the appearance of a possible new calendar. It included moving exams before winter break and a shortened exam period.


Photo Gallery

Rejected!: On Politics and Princeton Part IX

The prophets from Honor Code referenda opposition were gifted with incredible foresight. In their op-eds to the Daily Princetonian, the current Honor Committee chair and clerk argued that the faculty have the ultimate authority on disciplinary changes, and the first referendum’s lowering of the standard penalty for cheating because it would create a discrepancy between the punishments given by the Honor Committee and Committee on Discipline for similar violations. They further stated that reforming the Honor System requires input from faculty, students, and administrators.

An Academics Committee member also said in an op-ed that, “As someone who has sat on two different faculty committees over the past three years, I can tell you that the faculty will not react well to the student body dictating that they should support a more lenient penalty for cheating.”

They were right. The faculty and administration didn’t react well.

Today, Princeton’s top administrators sent an e-mail to all undergraduate students in which they rebuked the first three referenda. Here’s the e-mail:

Dear Students,

In the December Undergraduate Student Government election, four referenda on the Honor Constitution passed by a three-fourths majority.  The changes contemplated by three of the four referenda would fundamentally alter the University’s disciplinary penalties and standards for assessing violations of the Honor Code during in-class examinations.

Since changes this significant cannot be implemented without the engagement and support of the faculty, we write to let you know that they cannot take effect at this time.

The referenda on which students voted last month appeared quite suddenly on the USG docket.  The accelerated timetable for voting on the referenda preempted a thorough review by the University administration, which we believe was necessary before such significant changes in the Honor System constitution could be considered.  We have now completed that review.

By longstanding practice and by resolution of the Board of Trustees, oversight of student life and discipline, including the formulation of rules of conduct, has been delegated to the president and faculty of the University.  The Honor System was established under an agreement between the faculty and the student body, memorialized in a resolution the faculty adopted in 1893, which provided that “until due notice [is] given to the contrary” there would be no further supervision of in-class examinations, which students would take on their honor.

Under this agreement, the student body was entrusted with responsibility for adjudicating violations of academic integrity during in-class examinations.  The faculty, however, retained its ultimate authority over all academic matters, including those aspects of discipline it entrusted to the Honor Committee.

           The Honor System has only been amended in fundamental ways a handful of times since it was established.  The first constitution of the Honor System provided that if a student were found guilty of a violation, the committee would recommend to the faculty the student’s permanent separation from the college.  In 1921, the constitution was amended to authorize the committee to recommend leniency in exceptional cases.  In 1975, the constitution was amended to provide the possibility of a one-year separation as well as permanent separation from the University.

In contrast to these prior changes to the Honor Constitution, which were adopted with the support of the faculty, three of the referenda the student body approved last month propose to change longstanding aspects of the Honor System without faculty input.  Specifically, these referenda aim to reduce the standard penalties for certain violations; to require at least two separate pieces of evidence before cases can proceed to a hearing; and to enable instructors to control the outcome of proceedings by stating that the alleged violation complied with class policy.

These proposals represent a significant departure from prior practice and exceed the scope of the responsibility delegated to the student body by the faculty concerning the Honor System.  The proposals would also place the penalties for violating the Honor Code for in-class examinations out of alignment with academic integrity violations adjudicated by the faculty-student Committee on Discipline in cases of plagiarism and other out-of-class academic infractions. 

Accordingly, the changes proposed by the first, second, and third referenda cannot take effect at this time.  President Eisgruber has asked that these proposals be remanded for consideration to the faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, whose responsibilities include “the administration of all regulations which concern the program of study and the scholastic standing of undergraduate students.” (See Rules and Procedures of the Faculty, II. D. 2.g.)

The Committee on Examinations and Standing will evaluate the amendments recommended by the referenda.  The faculty-student Honor System Review Committee appointed last November by Dean Dolan, Dean Kulkarni, and Vice President Calhoun to review the Honor System will be asked to include the three referenda in its review and to report its findings and recommendations to the Committee on Examinations and Standing.

As it makes its determinations, the Committee on Examinations and Standing also will consider the findings of a committee chaired by Dean Deignan that was appointed last year to review other standards and procedures governing the work of the Committee on Discipline and the Residential College Discipline Board.

The Committee on Examinations and Standing will decide whether the referenda’s amendments are consistent with the faculty’s delegation of responsibility and whether the penalties for academic integrity violations should remain aligned across both systems.  If the committee believes that changes to the Honor System or the Committee on Discipline’s penalties and procedures are warranted, it will present a proposal to the full faculty for its consideration.

The fourth referendum proposes a procedural change—requiring the Honor Committee to tell students, at the time of initial contact, whether they are witnesses or are accused of a violation.  This change can be implemented without faculty review, and we expect the Honor Committee will now institute this change in its procedures.

Otherwise, in the interim and until further notice, the Honor System will continue to operate as it did prior to the vote on the referenda.

Academic integrity is one of the hallmarks of a Princeton education.  The Honor System entrusts students to play a critical role in ensuring that academic integrity is respected and sustained.  We respect your desire to ensure that the system remains fair and we understand that the vote on these referenda represent a serious engagement with our academic integrity adjudication process.

But we must also make sure that penalties across both of our disciplinary bodies remain appropriate and equitable and that they convey the seriousness with which the University regards violations of our bedrock academic values.  And we must follow longstanding procedure that gives faculty input and oversight regarding these vital decisions.

We appreciate the import of the recent vote and we will urge the Honor System Review Committee and the Committee on Examinations and Standing to work efficiently and effectively to complete their reviews and make their recommendations.

With our best wishes,

Jill Dolan, Dean of the College

W. Rochelle Calhoun, Vice President for Campus Life

Sanjeev Kulkarni, Dean of the Faculty

In short, Princeton had already created groups to analyze reforms to the Honor System, and the administrators don’t like being preempted. While the referenda are not completely dead, they’ve been relegated to collegiate committees, groups that make changes at a glacial pace.


UPDATE (1/12/18)— USG President Myesha Jemison ’18 sent an e-mail to all undergraduates in response:

Dear Princetonians,
On the afternoon of January 4th, you all received an email from VP Calhoun, Dean Dolan, and Dean Kulkarni regarding the four Honor Constitution referenda that passed in the USG Winter Elections with 64% of students voting. Of those 64% of students, the turn-out in support of each of the referenda was 87%, 90%, 89%, and 94%, respectively.
In this email, these administrators informed us that the amendments proposed by the first, second, and third referenda will not be implemented at this time and will instead be delegated to two university committees–the first being the faculty-student Honor System Review Committee appointed November 2017, and the second being the Committee on Examinations and Standing.
As your elected student representatives, our duty is to represent your view and to pursue your best interests. As such, we are looking at the precedent of administration overriding a vote from the student body and actively pursuing other avenues of action available to us.
We are incredibly grateful for your engagement in the Winter Elections and Referenda cycle. How you all took time to engage in public debates, present at USG Senate meetings, write articles in The Daily Princetonian, post on Facebook, and engage with your peers was truly inspiring. We hope to never lose this momentum.
Wishing you all the best with Dean’s Date assignments and Final Exams.


Your Undergraduate Student Government Executive Committee


Myesha Jemison, President

Daniel Qian, Vice President

Alison Shim, Treasurer

Pooja Patel, U-Council Chair

Miranda Rosen, U-Council Chair

Tania Bore, University Student Life Committee Chair

Patrick Flanigan, Academics Chair

Lavinia Liang, Social Chair

Christine Jeong, Campus & Community Affairs Chair

Tales from the Crypt: On Politics and Princeton Part VIII

The winter 2017 election wasn’t the only Princeton USG election to spark controversy or draw national attention. It’s just carrying on a tradition that extends back at least 30 years.

Will of the People

In winter 2014, three candidates vied for the USG presidency. Sophomore Will Gansa faced off against juniors Ella Cheng and Molly Stoneman. Cheng had previously served as a Class of 2016 Senator and Stoneman was the current USG Vice President. In contrast, Gansa had no prior experience in USG. He hadn’t even planned to run for the presidency until some friends heavily prodded him. As his “press secretary” Nicholas Horvath said, “We basically took our friend and made him a campus celebrity.”

Cheng and Stoneman ran on traditional campaign platforms that involved enacting policy reforms and making USG more accountable. But Gansa had a joke platform. He promised to implement “bike reform” and bring riper fruit and more waffle fries to campus dining halls. Decrying the tyranny of the “government club,” as he called USG, Gansa claimed to represent the “#willofthepeople.” He also posted strange campaign videos online. One video simply showed him doing nothing but eating waffle fries for seven minutes.

Gansa’s campaign drew more attention than expected. People constantly posted about him on Yik Yak, a now defunct social media platform. For much of the campaign, he refused to speak to the Daily Princetonian. He never answered the Editorial Board’s e-mails, so it endorsed Cheng. Near the end of the election, he granted the “Prince” one interview.

By the end of the race, Gansa had transformed into a cult figure. He won 44 percent of the vote — more than Cheng (32 percent) and Stoneman (25 percent) — and forced a run-off election between him and Cheng. This caused an uproar among his opponents. They said that sexism was at play because students were willing to elect a male joke candidate with zero prior leadership experience over two highly qualified female candidates.

An even greater number of students voted in the run-off election. This time, Cheng was overwhelmingly elected to the USG presidency. The odd nature of this student government election gained national attention, and the New York Times devoted two articles to it.

The winter 2014 USG election also featured a vote on the referendum, “Shall the undergraduates urge the administration to reestablish a campus pub?” Princeton once had a school-sponsored pub in Chancellor Green where students and faculty could meet. The University closed it in 1984 when New Jersey raised the minimum legal drinking age to 21. A 2010 task force unanimously recommended that the University reopen the campus pub in 2012, but no subsequent action was taken. The referendum passed 698 to 32.

Bottoms Up

In 2008, Conor Diemand-Yauman ran unopposed for the USG presidency. He had been accused of serving alcohol to minors. The top issue of his platform was addressing the discrepancy between legal and University punishments for underage drinking.

Outgoing USG president Josh Weinstein sent an e-mail at 1:00 am to the entire student body saying that he endorsed his fraternity brother Mike Weinberg for the USG vice presidency. Weinstein also said that Diemand-Yauman supported Weinberg. But Diemand-Yauman sent an e-mail back saying that he never supported Weinberg and had no intentions of doing so. Weinstein sent another e-mail to apologize, and then Diemand-Yauman said that the apology was not enough. He told the “Prince” that, “This apology is essentially worthless because he is trying to justify his implication” and, “It’s analogous to someone saying ‘I apologize that I am implying because you are drinking in the morning, afternoon and evening — you are an alcoholic.’”

That same year, the conservative-backed “Coalition for Intellectual Integrity” introduced a referendum that would have banned the University from taking stances on social issues, like California’s Proposition 8 to allow same-sex marriage.

Spitzer’s Spitting Image

Thirty years earlier, Eliot Spitzer was the chairman of USG (a prior equivalent of the USG president). Even in college, Spitzer displayed strong political skills by getting numerous mentions in the “Prince.” His ego and overinflated sense of USG’s importance deeply irritated students. For the next election, a group of physics students formed a party against Spitzer and other USG future politicians called the “Antarctic Liberation Front” (ALF). As one alumnus wrote of the ALF:

I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica. The ALF swept the USG election. This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body. The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies…only amused the general student population even further. After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.

Other ALF details included the promise to appoint the “Four Fs” — friends, flunkies, fictional characters, and functional illiterates — to political offices. The ALF also planned to, “heat dorms only during the summer, when it’s economical.” Their dawn–dusk curfew had a premise that allowed it to be suspended for up to one hour, “for witnessing public executions.”

The ALF even passed a proposal for, “every building on campus over 5′ 5” tall and not USG chairman shall be renamed Daniel P. Arovas Hall.” The only building that the USG did not rename was the Department of Geoscience’s Rock Magnetism Laboratory because, being partially buried underground, it was less than 5′ 5”. Daniel Arovas was the ALF’s leader and ran for the USG chairmanship. He lost by six votes — of 1,400 cast — after a recount. Arovas is now a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego where he is studying, “theories of strongly correlated quantum systems, particularly in low dimensions where quantum fluctuations can lead to interesting and exotic new states of matter.”

Years later, Spitzer was still upset about this event. But he put a twist to the story. He told The New Yorker:

Princeton at the start of the nineteen-eighties was hardly a hotbed of political activism. Candidates for office included a ‘Jihad Party,’ made up of hard-partying frat boys who wore towels and face masks. ‘It wasn’t an office that I recall many people fighting for,’ one of Spitzer’s fellow-students said. ‘Even without Jihad, the slate would have been pretty thin.

Another Princeton alumnus wrote back:

Sorry, Eliot. I’m sure the New Yorker audience thinks it’s just terrible the way the big, bad frat boys mocked your noble sense of public service. The truth–that a bunch of hyperintellectuals with a sense of humor incited a student revolt against Spitzer-style self-importance–is a lot more embarrassing.

Spitzer went on to allegedly earn a perfect score on the LSAT, attend Harvard Law School, and become a lawyer at the international law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. He was elected the Attorney General of New York in 1998 as a Democrat and reelected in 2002. In 2006, he was elected Governor of New York. Two years later, the New York Times reported that Spitzer had paid thousands of dollars to high-end prostitutes in his time since being elected Attorney General. His governorship — similar to his USG chairmanship — ended in disgrace as he resigned from office.


Regardless of whether it’s Spitzer or Gansa running for the USG presidency, the outcome is usually the same. Someone is elected to Princeton’s highest undergraduate office and fellow students just shrug their shoulders and return to normal life as if nothing had ever happened. For better or for worse, Princetonians don’t take their student government too seriously no matter how hard its members try to make it relevant to their lives.

But sometimes this also happens because of how USG officials treat their jobs. As one 2009 USG memo leaked by the “Prince” stated, “We can’t run it like a business or take ourselves too seriously.” The official concluded, “usg [sic] is constantly talking about giving students a voice, but this promise is meaningless without realistic, practical ways to exercise that voice.”

Power to the People: On Politics and Princeton Part VII

Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) held its annual winter elections in the weeks leading up to winter break. Usually, these elections are marked by student apathy, low voter turnout, and empty promises for better student representation. But not this time. Unlike previous elections, this one featured a volatile three-way presidential race and referenda for sweeping reforms of Princeton’s century-old Honor Code.

Hail to the Chief

The presidential race foreshadowed drama before it even began. All prospective USG candidates for elected office had to submit petitions by 12:00 pm on November 28. Ryan Ozminkowski ’19 turned in his petition ~30 minutes late and appealed for acceptance to the USG Senate. He claimed that he thought the deadline was 12:00 pm Pacific Standard Time instead of Eastern Standard Time. The election rules never specified the time zone. Few, if any, on the USG Senate believed his excuse, though Ozminkowski argued that lawyers, with whom his campaign team consulted, said that it would be a valid excuse in any court of law. USG approved his petition.

Several days later, current USG president Myesha Jemison released the list of candidates with their campaign statements. Three students had declared their candidacy for the presidency: Matt Miller ’19, Ryan Ozminkowski ’19, and Rachel Yee ’19. Many of the other positions were uncontested, and nobody ran for the social committee chairmanship.

Miller was the only candidate who was a member of USG during the previous year. He worked on the communications committee. As a former athlete, he wanted to improve relations between student athletes and non-athletes in addition to getting better acts for Lawnparties.

Yee already had strong name recognition. She ran for USG president in 2016 and won a majority of votes in every class except for the senior class. Like the previous year, her statement indicated that she would run a policy-centric campaign with improvements to Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) being the central goal of her administration. Her statement was polished and professional.

Ozminkowski surprised everyone with his candidacy statement. It looked like a parody of a candidate for the U.S. presidency. He wrote:

“In the past year, 6.5 million individuals in the U.S. were reported as unemployed, 783 million people worldwide did not have access to clean and safe water, and 18 million acres of rainforests were destroyed. We, as a people, can do better. We must do better.”

Most students thought that he was a joke candidate and treated him as such. (In full disclosure, Ozminkowski is a friend from my geoscience class that went to Morocco during fall break.) But that all changed when the election began.

On the first day of campaigning, Ozminkowski’s team bought out the domains for his rival candidates’ websites and redirected them to his own in a move that paralleled how a Trump supporter redirected visitors from to Ozminkowski later returned the domains to the other candidates.

Two days later, the candidates faced off in a debate hosted by the American Whig-Cliosophic Society. Until this point, most students thought that Ozminkowski was in the race as a joke. But he publicly announced that he was a serious candidate and answered the debate’s questions as such. Yee’s remarks had the strongest substance yet were lacking in delivery. Miller said few memorable lines other than a heated exchange between him and the current social committee chairwoman (she was also in my geoscience class). Ozminkowski was the only one who spoke well and had smooth off-the-cuff comments. Unlike the other candidates, he did not look or sound like he was nervous. Objectively, Ozminkowski won the debate.

In the following days, op-eds endorsing various candidates flooded the Daily Princetonian. One of my fellow opinion writers submitted a column that stated that Ozminkowski’s campaign was a joke and students should not vote for him. In response, Ozminkowski’s roommate defended him in an op-ed. One slanderous op-ed was written by an anonymous student who claimed to be a rape victim, and she stated that his campaign insulted victims of sexual assault because he was promoting joke policies instead of CPS reform. Ozminkowski had previously stated in the debate that sexual assault was a serious problem on college campuses that should be properly addressed. Eventually, the Daily Princetonian Editorial Board endorsed Yee. I later wrote a column about the problems with USG elections.

While op-eds were flying through the newspaper, most of the campaigning occurred on Facebook. Yee campaigned on the slogans “Yee for USG” and “See a need fill a need.” But Ozminkowski quickly gained attention with his nebulous slogan “Vote for an ideal not an idea.” He founded Princeton Tonight — the school’s only television show — and consequently was backed by friends with strong cinematography skills. This link between the two garnered attention, as Princeton Tonight aired Ozminkowski’s candidacy announcement. After criticism, the group removed the video and temporarily severed its ties with him.

Ozminkowski’s campaign videos were visually appetizing. He and Yee created ever-improving videos with each successive one outdoing the last. While Ozminkowski promised to run a marathon if elected in his videos, Yee called for CPS and academic advising reforms. Oscar-winning La La Land director Damien Chazelle even made a video that endorsed Ozminkowski.

Then came the strangest twist in the election. Student Ben Sender ’18 started an online group called Liberty Meets All Opportunity (LMAO). It claimed to be the nation’s first collegiate “Super PAQ” (yes, it was spelled with a Q). LMAO said that it was founded at Princeton and Harvard. Further, it stated that it had many followers because there were thousands of college students who believed in the ideals of liberty and opportunity. LMAO attempted to raise interest in the election by promising to donate $500 to the charity of voters’ choosing. This publicity stunt captured the attention of Princeton’s world renowned philosopher Peter Singer. He e-mailed the +200 students in his famous “Practical Ethics” class with a message endorsing LMAO’s effective altruism.

LMAO endorsed Yee and Ozminkowski. The group went even further to campaign on their behalves by buying Facebook ads in support of them. But this created a campaign finance conundrum. USG election rules state that candidates cannot spend more than $50 in an election. Third party spending on behalf of a candidate would count toward that candidate’s overall spending budget. Candidates spending ≥$5 above the limits can be expelled from the race. By campaigning for two candidates, USG did not know to whom the cost of LMAO’s ads should be billed. Neither candidate asked for the endorsement. But LMAO said that it had compulsory support, meaning that it would campaign on behalf of candidates even if they did not ask for its support. LMAO’s entire scheme was ingenious and masterfully orchestrated.

In the final days of the election, all three candidates ramped up their campaigns. My roommate reported that Miller and Yee had stopped by our room for door-to-door campaigning. I was printing papers at those times.

Ozminkowski challenged Miller and Yee to a second debate that would be held during a late meal. Miller accepted but Yee declined. It happened several days later. I stopped by the debate while getting some food. There were at least a hundred students in attendance. Although the questions spanned a variety of topics, Lawnparties received the most interest. Ozminkowski won the debate again.

Just before voting started, the Daily Princetonian exposed a hole in USG’s Helios voting platform. It discovered that non-undergraduate students could also cast votes. USG responded that it would work on ways to filter out fraudulent votes from graduate students.

I Pledge My Honor

Rumblings for Honor Code reform began long the referenda appeared on the ballot. The Honor Code was established as a contract between professors and students in 1893 after a string of cheating scandals. It created procedures for taking tests and punishing cheaters. In the 124 years since its adoption, it has been modified numerous times by students.

Currently, the Honor Code works in this way: Students take exams in a lecture hall and sign a pledge to not cheat on each exam. In turn, professors and teaching assistants do not watch students while taking exams. The Honor Code forces students to report incidents of cheating. Failure to do so could result in punishment. Once a student has been accused of cheating, the Honor Committee questions him and calls in witnesses. If there is sufficient evidence, the Committee proceeds from an investigation to a trial. The Committee acts as the prosecution and judge, finding evidence against the student, determining his guilt, and delivering a sentence. Students found guilty of cheating are suspended for one year. The Honor Committee is comprised of current class presidents, all past class presidents, and students who are selected by current Committee members and confirmed by the USG Senate.

Last spring, the Daily Princetonian Editorial Board published two articles about possible reforms to the Honor Code. They attracted much criticism from students.

Students are fearful of the Honor Committee. They often hesitate to report possible cheating incidents for fear of being responsible for a fellow student’s expulsion. Ignorance of the Committee’s investigation procedures is ubiquitous in the student body. Although these procedures are publicly available, few want to comply with them.

In October, USG Academics Committee chairman Patrick Flanigan ’18 formed a subcommittee to put referenda for reforming the Honor Code on the winter election ballot. He started this subcommittee without consulting Honor Committee chair Carolyn Liziewski ’18. To amend the Honor Code, at least one third of students must vote in the election and three quarters of those voting students must approve a referendum.

Flanigan’s subcommittee introduced four referenda at the start of the USG elections. They immediately caught students’ attention. The referenda would:

  1. Lower the standard penalty for cheating from a one year suspension to academic probation.
  2. A hearing must have at least two pieces of evidence against a student before it proceeds to an investigation.
  3. A professor or teaching assistant can overrule a guilty verdict by the Honor Committee. The burden of proof for a guilty verdict was also raised to requiring, “overwhelmingly convincing evidence.”
  4. The Honor Committee must disclose to students that it calls of their status as a defendant or witness upon initial contact.

These referenda proposed to make the biggest changes to the Honor Code in at least a generation. The Daily Princetonian was inundated with op-eds in the following days.

Supporters of the referenda saw them as necessary measures to check the Honor Committee’s power. They thought that the standard one year suspension was overly harsh. Many also claimed that the Honor Committee was investigating and giving punishment to frivolous cases that had little supporting evidence.

One op-ed was written by an anonymous student who had been investigated by the Honor Committee. The student said that he/she had not cheated, a teaching assistant confirmed her story, and the accuser misidentified her. Despite the strong evidence in support of his/her innocence, the Honor Committee voted to punish him/her.

Opponents said that the referenda would implement irresponsible reform. The opposition was spearheaded by the Honor Committee leadership. They said that reform should occur through a months-long process that involves discussions with administrators, students, faculty, and alumni. The first referendum would make it easier for students to cheat and create a disparity between the standard punishment given by the Honor Committee and the Committee on Discipline, a panel that deals with all other non-cheating violations of the school’s policies.  The third referendum would be subjective to favoritism from professors, as students in a small seminar would have a greater chance of a professor overruling a verdict than those in a large lecture.

Students then put a social justice twist to the referenda. Supporters claimed that the one year standard punishment disproportionately hurt students of color and low income backgrounds. They said that students from wealthy families could afford to travel around the world or take a high status unpaid internship for a year while low income student would likely have to take a minimum wage job.

During the campaign, students, alumni, USG members, and Honor Committee members past and present all weighed in on the discussion. The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board endorsed all four referenda. Nine former Honor Committee chairs wrote an op-ed against the referenda. Their argument was partly supported by the historical claim that the standard punishment had not changed since the Honor Code’s establishment in 1893. This “fact” was false. A former U-Councilor followed up with an op-ed that corrected the record. They original standard punishment was expulsion and then was subsequently lowered to the one year suspension.

The American Whig-Cliosophic Society held a senate debate on reforming the Honor Code. U-Councilor Diego Negrón Reichard and former Honor Committee member Micah Herskind argued against Honor Committee Chair Carolyn Liziewski and USG Academics Committee member Connor Pfeiffer. The Whig Hall senate chamber was packed. It was the most students I had ever seen at a Whig-Clio debate. For 90 minutes, students argued back and forth about the referenda. Liziewski had to defend the status quo as proponents peppered her with questions. Near the end, Academics chairman Patrick Flanigan made some remarks about why he introduced the referenda.

Tensions rose as the election day drew nearer. Flanigan told the “Prince,” “Throughout this process, I have been called sexist, a zealot, undemocratic, unfair, secret, manipulative, and it is beginning to wear on me,” and, “I think it is time the students vote.” The University held its breath as it waited to see the elections’ results.


The results were announced via e-mail. Yee had a landslide victory that garnered 72 percent of votes. All four referenda were passed by overwhelming margins with the narrowest margin being 87 percent approval of the first referendum and the widest margin being 94 percent approval of the fourth referendum. There was a soaring 50 percent turnout for the presidential election and 64 percent for the referenda.

Ozminkowski’s presidential run drew praise and criticism. On one hand, he largely ignored major policy issues in his campaign. On the other, he drew unprecedented popular attention to a USG election that otherwise is hardly noticed. Yee is currently planning her policy objectives for the upcoming year.

Meanwhile, Flanigan and other supporters of the Honor Code referenda are preparing to propose additional reforms this spring. The University created a task force to review the Honor System. Flanigan and Liziewski will both be on it.

The presidential race was interesting but had a predictable outcome. The referenda created newfound interest in the Honor Code that will likely result in further changes.


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UPDATE (1/1/18)— Today, I received an e-mail about LMAO’s charity vote result:

Dear USG Voter and EA Enthusiast,

Happy New Year from all of us at Liberty Meets All Opportunity! Thank you for voting in the inaugural Liberty Meets All Opportunity charity project. We received 481 votes, 37% of which were for the Against Malaria Foundation, placing above GiveDirectly which received 18% of votes. Though not an official category, we also received dozens of write-in votes by email for donating to Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, all of which were discarded.
On December 17th we donated $500 to AMF which you can track here. AMF is an extremely effective cause and we ask you to consider giving yourself.
Thank you again for participating in our charity project and voting in the USG election. The field of candidates was particularly strong this year, and it’s widely accepted that we made them stronger. We are overjoyed to be responsible for Rachel Yee’s win, as well as helping Ryan Ozminkowski and Matt Miller bring their message to voters.
Until next time,

Weeks in Review 12/1–15/17

Monday— I was walking to a computer science study session in Lewis Library when I noticed luminarias lining Prospect Avenue. They were by an off-campus group called “Womanspace” for raising awareness of sexual assault.

Tuesday— The winners of the Breakthrough Prizes were announced. Three Princeton professors split a $3 million award. One of the professors taught Physics 104 last semester, the same class that I took, though I did not have him as my preceptor. A professor who taught Physics 104 in spring 2016 won the Nobel Prize in physics the following fall. This class has a strong record of its professors winning prestigious awards.


Thursday— I attended a lecture by Daniel Kurtzer, the former diplomat to Egypt under President Clinton and Israel under President Bush. He talked about how peacemakers and human rights activists often clash because they have different means for achieving similar goals. At the end, he answered the audience’s questions about President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He denounced the move, saying that it wrecked over 20 years of diplomatic work in the Middle East. Diplomats were working on a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that would have resulted in Israel being split yet still a joint capital between Israel and Palestine with a U.S. embassy on each side. Kurtzer said that this damaged the U.S.’s reputation as a fair negotiator.

Afterwards, I went to a lecture by David French, a conservative writer for the National Review. He said that he was on Bill Maher’s show a few weeks prior. His primary topic was the freedom of speech. He said that legal protections of speech are stronger than ever before but the country’s culture of tolerating diverse opinions is ruining. French said that the First Amendment protects citizens from censorship that comes from the top (the government) down and not from the bottom up. He explained that this form of censorship is happening on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

Friday— The Princeton University Band marched into the Whitman dining hall while I was eating dinner and played some Christmas songs.

Saturday— In the evening, I went to watch A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre. It was snowing heavily when I left, so I walked around campus to take pictures.

Sunday— I ascended Cleveland Tower with a friend to take pictures of Princeton in the snow.

Monday— I had an article published in the Daily Princetonian.

I attended a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community. In essence, it’s a meeting where administrators make a report on key issues to professors and students. They talked about sexual assault and mental health at this meeting.

Whig-Clio held a debate on reforming the Honor Code. Current Honor Committee chairwoman Carolyn Liziewski and Academics Committee member Connor Pfeiffer represented the Clios. U-Councilor Diego Negrón Reichard and former Honor Committee member Micah Herskind argued for the Clios. The Whigs — who were in favor of the reform — won in a 2:1 vote. Voting Record

Wednesday— After taking my geoscience exam, I wandered into an event called, “The Last Lecture Before Kingdom Come: A Brief Genealogy of Sunset Studies, on the Occasion of Our Final Sunset.” I thought that it was a real lecture. Instead, it was play by the campus’ resident thespian — Kyle Berlin — that satirized every stereotype of professors.

Thursday— I watched the research presentations from this year’s geoscience’s freshman seminar class. Their findings showed that the Dune du Pilat is over an area that was once a marsh, gravimetry can be used to detect undiscovered caves, and δ18O levels in speleothems — also known as stalactites and stalagmites — in the Grottes de Bétharram record annual precipitation.

Thursday also marked Lit-mas, the final party day of the year for eating clubs. I saw people walking around campus in ugly Christmas sweaters, including one that had actual electric lights.



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Weeks in Review 11/12-12/1/17

Tuesday— I met a friend at the Cap and Gown Club. The food was better and fresher than that in the dining hall. I’m starting to see the benefits of eating club membership.

My article was published in the Daily Princetonian.

Thursday— I walked to the Graduate School for its Thanksgiving dinner. It was phenomenal. The tables were lined with white table cloths, and the feast was fit for a king. The food wasn’t just good by dining hall standards; it was objectively good for anywhere.

Friday— I was selected by my freshman writing seminar professor to give a presentation at the semesterly Mary George Conference. I presented the findings of my paper on the Citizens United v. FEC (2010) Supreme Court ruling.

Sunday— The American Rhodes Scholarship winners were announced. I knew four people who were competing for it, but none of them won. Princeton’s sole winner was Jordan Thomas, a Woodrow Wilson School major. This amazed me. I had met him several months earlier at an event where Career Services was teaching table manners to students. He was just a regular nice guy. I guess you never know who you’ll meet at Princeton.

Monday— I had another article published in the Daily Princetonian.

Every fall, students celebrate a made-up holiday called “Dranksgiving.” It’s one of the big party days for the eating clubs. I think it’s a sad excuse to get drunk before everyone goes home to see their families at Thanksgiving.

Monday— I attended the Whig-Clio’s senate debate on recognizing North Korea’s nuclear program. The Whigs argued that nuclear recognition would enable the U.S. to negotiate with North Korea on other issues, such as improving human rights. The Clios countered that North Korea will never listen to the U.S. regardless of its diplomacy. I voted for the Clios.

Tuesday— My column was published in the Daily Princetonian.

I went on another trip to the Supreme Court with the James Madison Program as guests of Justice Neil Gorsuch. This time we watched two oral arguments. They were much more technical than Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer (2017), so I did not fully understand them.

While we were waiting for the justices to arrive, I started talking to the man sitting next to me. He had worked as an executive at Intel and now works with various political organization. He said that he was in Delaware recently for a meeting of the conservative Caesar Rodney Institute as a board member.

When the clock struck 10:00, the justices immediately appeared from behind the maroon drapes and sat down. First, they swore in new members of the Supreme Court Bar. Then, they heard three lawyers argue in the case 15-1439 CYAN V. BEAVER CTY. EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT FUND. It was about, “whether state courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over covered class actions that allege only Securities Act of 1933 claims” (I don’t fully know what this means. It’s just what the JMP description said.). I think that they were trying to resolve an ambiguity in the law.

The first two lawyers represented the plaintiff and defendant as is the case in any court case. The third lawyer was the solicitor general. His job is to deliver the government’s opinion on the case whenever the Supreme Court asks for it. According to tradition, the solicitor general must wear English morning dress while arguing in front of the Supreme Court. The other lawyers wore regular suits.

It turned into a Congressional roast session where the justices took turns making pointed jokes about their colleagues on Capitol Hill. Samuel Alito grilled both sides as he grappled with how a textualist should rule when the law is silent on a particular point. He conjured the legacy of Antonin Scalia to ask what he would do in such a situation. One of the lawyers ended his speech early so that he could save his time to speak at the end after all of the other lawyers. He had four minutes to speak during which none of the justices interrupted him. His speech didn’t sound much different than what I had presented for the extemporaneous portion of the American Legion’s constitutional speech contest. He explained prior court rulings and legislative history to argue why the justices should rule a certain way.

The second case was 16-1276 DIGITAL REALTY TRUST V. SOMERS . It regarded, “whether the anti-retaliation provision for ‘whistleblowers’ in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 extends to individuals who have not reported alleged misconduct to the Securities and Exchange Commission and thus fall outside the act’s definition of ‘whistleblower.'” Basically, the plaintiffs were asking for a Chevron Deference but were doing so in a subtle manner as to avoid conflict with Justice Gorsuch.  The Chevron Deference was established in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (1984). It involves scenarios where a bureaucratic agency makes regulations that go beyond a law passed by Congress. The Court ruled in Chevron that if Congress is silent on the issues pertaining to those regulations then the Court cannot make an interpretation and will defer judgement on the matter to the agency. Justice Gorsuch disagrees with this ruling. During one of the lawyers’ speeches, Gorsuch asked him a series of hypothetical questions. The lawyer answered them affirmatively and fell into Gorsuch’s trap, essentially revealing his intentions to indirectly ask for a Chevron Deference. It was great entertainment. After the arguments, we took a tour of the building.

Wednesday— Whitman College organized a group to go to the astrophysics department’s observatory night. The sky was clear, so we saw a lot of celestial objects ranging from Uranus to the Orion Nebula.

Thursday— The Princeton Conservation Society organized an event where some people from a bird rescue agency brought some hawks and owls to show to the public.

Friday— I helped with staffing the Princeton Classic, a high school debate tournament. The funds from it pay for the Princeton Debate Panel’s travels.


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Weeks in Review 10/16-11/10/17

Tuesday— There were two big lectures headlining the day. The first was by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He privately spoke to about 20 undergraduates from the James Madison Program in the Prospect House’s garden room. Most of his talk was devoted to arguing against the secularization of ethics and morals in modern culture. He said that it is religious communities’ duty to enter the public square and advance their beliefs when it prevents society from greater harms.

An hour later, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof gave a lecture. When I walked thirty minutes early into McCosh 50, Princeton’s largest lecture hall, it was already full. I had to stand in the back of the balcony. Many of the lectures that I have watched from high-profile speakers involve much doom and gloom as they talk about addressing the world’s toughest problems. But Kistof was upbeat. He explained how donations to charities have profound impacts in developing nations. Sometimes, as little as $10 can save a person’s life on the other side of the planet by purchasing a vaccine. He talked about various nonprofits — like one that trains giant rats to find landmines in Angola — find unique ways to help people in need. At the end, he had a conversation with Professor Peter Singer on the topic of effective altruism and how ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference in eradicating global poverty.

Wednesday— I attended an information session about studying abroad at Oxford University. It’s a goal that is within reach.

Thursday— The Princeton Environmental Institute hosted a panel on how human activities contribute to natural disasters. One speaker emphasized the need for strong infrastructure. Hurricane Katrina showed how storms will exploit weaknesses in infrastructure to make social issues, like inequality, even worse.

Tuesday— Before my computer science class, I went to the weekly geoscience departmental lecture. It was about the end-Permian mass extinction, Earth’s largest extinction, and how anoxic conditions in the ocean contributed to it.

Wednesday— Bestselling author John Grisham spoke in Richardson Auditorium with a professor. His latest book, Camino Island, is set at Princeton in the beginning when some criminals steal F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original manuscripts from Firestone Library. He said that he never visited Firestone while writing the book. Everything about it was merely information that he gleaned from the Internet. Before the book was published, he said that he almost sent a copy of the book and an apology letter to President Eisgruber, but his lawyer advised against it. When asked why he chose Princeton, Grisham said that it was because he liked 20th century American novelist, and only Fitzgerald had complete manuscripts in a single location that theoretically could be stolen in a single heist.

Whitman College had a Halloween-themed dinner. The food was title: “vampire chicken,” “ghoul gravy,” and “Jack-o-lantern macaroni.” But waffle French fries are still just called “waffle fries.”

Thursday— Students took part in the annual Princetoween festivities. I briefly walked into Campus Club to pick up some free tater tots and talk to a friend. Along the way, I saw people in costume as a devil, cowboy, shark, hot dog, banana, the Pope, the Blue Man Group, and Mario and Luigi.

Tuesday— At night, I went to a dinner in the Prospect House for a James Madison Program discussion on John Foster Dulles. The professor explained how he thought that Dulles’ religious zeal had contributed to his determination to stop Communism’s spread.

Wednesday— A Ford Model T was parked in front of Fine Hall when I went to math class. I have no idea why it was there.

Thursday— I went to my computer science lecture just like any other week. The professor began to speak about the homework assignment just like any other week. But unlike any other week, five men and two women ran into the room wearing Princeton cheerleader uniforms, walked onto the stage, and told us to attend the Triangle Club’s annual show. The professor was stunned and couldn’t fully resume his presentation for at least five minutes.

The fire alarm went off at 9:30 pm. It wasn’t a routine drill. We’re already beginning to follow last year’s trend of having alarms at weird hours of the day. A friend told me that, “allegedly,” this happens because Whitman College has a lot of single bedrooms and students like to smoke marijuana in them, thereby triggering the smoke detectors.

Friday— Like last year, I went to the Princeton Glee Club’s football concert, this time with Yale. It was a bit toned-down compared to the Harvard concert.

Two hours later, I briefly attended the Black and Orange Ball. It was similar to the previous year’s event with music, poker, carnival games, and a photo booth. I grabbed some free food and then left.

Saturday— Princeton lost to Yale in the football game. It looks like there won’t be a bonfire this year.

That evening, I watched Yale Jam, a concert with the Yale Whiffenpoofs and Princeton Nassoons. Princeton sounded much better than Yale.

Sunday— I went to the Triangle Club’s annual musical, Spy School Musical.


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Sound Gallery

Selling Out: A Princeton Tradition


When the autumn leaves begin to fall each year, corporate recruiters descend upon Princeton’s campus to attract the best and brightest to their companies. While Wall Street’s most prestigious firms don’t exclusively recruit from the Ivy League, it is certainly where they get the majority of their newest entry-level workers. There’s hardly a week that goes by when I don’t receive a group recruitment e-mail from some prestigious company.

Forty years ago, people would traditionally apply to work at a bank. They either received an offer, or they did not. Once they were hired, they stayed in the position like a normal job until some form of poor performance caused them to get fired. Starting in the 1980s, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, changed its strategies for attracting young workers. Others soon followed. These banks created the “two and out” system.

Instead of having permanent jobs, the firms offered temporary two-year positions for recent college graduates. Goldman recruited really smart students from Ivy League schools with the promise that their jobs would help them reach their true career goals later in life. Their recruitment didn’t end at economics and finance majors either; they also attracted students in English, philosophy, politics, history, and any other area of study that one could think of. This diversity of workers also added to the firms’ prestige, fueling the culture of perceived “smartness.”

Wall Street recruitment pierced the highest levels of academia’s elite, all the way up to Rhodes Scholars. In the 1970s, only three Rhodes Scholars of 320 went into business. By the end of the 1980s, they had three per year. In 1985, McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, held their first recruitment session in the Rhodes House. They lured students with per annum starting salaries of $60,000. Now, Rhodes Scholars are perhaps the highest-paid entry-level employees at Wall Street firms with signing bonuses exceeding $100,000.

Despite the Ivy League schools’ collective rhetoric about being bold, confidently standing for one’s own beliefs, and taking academic risks, the reality is quite the opposite. Princeton students are risk-averse. It’s an open secret. They don’t like being wrong and are afraid of failure. In fact, I’ve met students who take easier classes to keep their GPA high so that they can get finance jobs. While there are people who don’t conform to this description, they are the exception, not the norm.

Ivy League students liked Wall Street jobs because they provided security. First, these firms held interviews and gave job offers during the fall semester, allowing students to lock down on their post-college plans long before graduation. Second, they delayed major life decisions — like finding a permanent job or starting a family — by at least two years. This is evidenced by the fact that The Harvard Crimson reported that 15.43 percent of the 2015 graduating class was going into consulting after graduation. But only 0.55 percent planned to still be in that field in 10 years.  Third, their jobs guaranteed that they would have a high salary straight out of college and could make business connections.

This changed after the Great Recession in 2008. Goldman Sachs played a significant role in causing the global financial crisis. As a result, its reputation was tarnished in the eyes of Ivy League students. The number of Harvard graduates going into financial services dropped from 28 to 17 percent between 2008 and 2011. Princeton is at 14 percent as of 2015-2016.

Now, big tech companies, like Facebook and Google, are competing with Wall Street firms to hire Ivy League graduates. They provide the same prestige, security, high salaries, and structured corporate lifestyle that seniors are looking for. These companies have the allure of Silicon Valley and don’t have investment banking’s perceived moral quandaries.

Wall Street has evolved with these changes. Its firms now offer a three-year plan. Students who survive the layoffs and corporate grind can pursue a temporary new endeavor. The firm will lend them money to attend law, business, or graduate school. When the students return, they must work for several more years to clear their debt to the firm.

Currently, I don’t have any intentions of going to Wall Street immediately after graduation. But I attended four corporate recruiting events this fall because it’s one of those “Princeton things” to do. I wanted to understand why so many students are attracted by the Wall Street sirens.

At Princeton, “selling out” means going to work for Wall Street. Below are my observations from the four most sought-after firms for which Princetonians want to sell out.

*  *  *  *  *

McKinsey & Company

Entry Position: Business Analyst

Starting Salary: $75,000 /year, $5,000 signing bonus, $5,000 relocation bonus

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: Founded in 1926, McKinsey & Co. is the gold standard in management consulting. McKinsey, or “The Firm” as it is called by employees, strikes fear and respect in the hearts of its competitors. Its relentless recruiting practices target top college students, usually making it the second largest employer of Rhodes Scholars in any given year (after the U.S. government). Sometimes, over a third of The Firm’s consultants have Harvard M.B.A.s. They even send representatives to national high school debate tournaments with the hope of recruiting the winners.

McKinsey hires Ivy League graduates and then instills within them a religious devotion to the company. It teaches them basic Microsoft excel and PowerPoint skills and then expects them to work over 80 hours per week. The Wall Street Journal described McKinsey’s culture as, “elite, loyal, and secretive.”

Despite its $8.4 billion revenue, McKinsey keeps a low public profile. Fundamentally, their services aren’t any different than those of its competitors. But their carefully-crafted public image causes top-level employees in other companies to say, “you can’t get fired for hiring McKinsey & Company.”

It originated two significant developments in corporate structures. First, McKinsey created the “up and out” policy.  Employees who do not get continuously promoted are told to leave. Second, it introduced the partner model from law offices to financial services. Profits are shared by the lucky few who become partners. They earn over $1 million each.

McKinsey annually receives 225,000 applications but hires only 2,200. One fifth leave each year due to the up and out policy. About 200 Princeton students attended a 6:00 pm presentation on September 14, 2017 in the hopes of talking their way into a job at The Firm.

Event: I arrived at the Frick chemistry building 10 minutes early. There was a crowd of suited people standing in the glass atrium. Very few, if any, STEM majors ever dress up on a normal school day. Clearly, they were not all chemistry students. It was ironic how a science building was being used for a consulting meeting. That is the quintessence of selling out.

At 6:00 pm, the students walked into Taylor Auditorium. I sat in the back. Everyone was clean-cut and generally looking good. But they weren’t dressed too formally. While men wore suits, many looked like they were walking into a New York City nightclub. A number of the women were in cocktail dresses. The McKinsey recruiters looked like the posterchildren of young bankers. They were wearing medium blue tight-fitting suits, brown shoes, colorful ties, and expensive watches. They were all Princeton alumni.

I was astounded by the audience’s composition. Everyone was present. I recognized people who were engineers, athletes, social activists, political scientists, econ frat bros, capitalists, and even one self-described socialist. It goes to show that anyone can and is willing to sell out.

The presentation began with a recruiter who spoke in an energetic — yet professional — tone. Each recruiter covered a specific section of the presentation. At the start of the sections, the recruiters talked about their hobbies outside of work. All of the were accomplished in some respect, whether it was running marathons or doing charity work.

First, a recruiter talked about working at McKinsey. He emphasized that consulting is a service that works directly with clients. His talk was packed full of Millennial buzzwords and catchphrases like: “impact,” “development,” “resources,” “growth,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” “work on problems,” and “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” The recruitment pitch sounded like that of an Ivy League school with its promises of a “supportive environment” and being “a valued member of a problem-solving team.”

As he was talking, I noticed that none of the students were on their cell phones. This is extremely rare. There are always students on their cell phones during every college presentation. But McKinsey wields the power to draw Princetonians away from their glowing screens.

In the middle, a recruiter showed her average weekly schedule. She emphasized that she had a lot of free time during the day to go to the gym or grab lunch with a friend. I looked at the chart a bit closer. She neglected to mention that her workdays lasted 9:00 am – 11:00 pm, excluding extra time that she puts in to outperform her co-workers.

Then, another recruiter talked about how The Firm will pay for law, business, or graduate school after working at it for three years, after which students can leave or rejoin it at a higher position.  At the end, he described McKinsey’s annual community service day.

To apply to McKinsey, students only have to submit a résumé and an academic transcript.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Entry Position: Associate

Starting Salary: $72,000 /year, $5,000 signing bonus, ≤$16,000 performance bonus, $4,400 profit sharing

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: BCG was founded in 1963 where it quickly grew from a one-man business to a consulting juggernaut. It is McKinsey’s nemesis. BCG actively competes with them to hire the smartest students. Ranked third on Forbes 2017 list of the one hundred best places to work, BCG likes to emphasize their fun side of sending employees to obstacle courses and baseball games.

Getting a job with BCG is difficult. Applicants must pass multiple rounds of internet testing and case interviews. Glassdoor ranked it as the third hardest company to interview for in 2013. Its annual revenue tops $5 billion while employing 14,000 people worldwide.

Event: BCG hosted their recruitment event in the Prospect House’s garden room on September 21, 2017. The crowd was only a quarter of the size of that at McKinsey’s event the prior week.

Students were dressed up again, even a bit more formal than they were at McKinsey. But there were a few short dresses and flashy suits. Everyone seemed schmoozey in the cocktail party sense. There was an initial PowerPoint that circled through several slides. They were filled with buzzwords like “grow,” “build,” “connect,” and “make a difference.”

When the presentation began, I noticed that most of the presenters were women. BCG highlighted diversity from the start. A video showed how BCG workers are pulled from a variety of races, genders, and backgrounds.

Next, they launched into a series of “10 surprising facts” where a recruiter recited 10 facts about BCG within one minute. It was amazing how BCG had locked onto Millennials’ short attention spans and shaped their presentation in such a way as to mimic social media’s clickbait articles.

One recruiter forgot some of the facts. Others had poor eye contact or talked softly. Compared to McKinsey, BCG looked like a B-team.

They transitioned into a section about working at BCG, with emphasis on “development” and “work-life balance” (though I’m sure that there’s a net positive balance on work). A recruiter explained how new consultants are assigned life advisers to help them fit into their job. Consultants receive $10,000-worth of professional training every year. He said that BCG wants employees to leave the firm happy so that they become clients in the future.

Another recruiter said that BCG does not care about a prospective applicant’s major. Everyone is taught how to use Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. After three years, employees can pursue post-graduate education on BCG’s dime. Forty-five percent apply to business school, and 93 percent go to a top-tier one.

Bain & Company

Entry Position: Associate Consultant

Starting Salary: $70,000 /year, $8,630 year-end bonus

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: Bain & Company tops off the “Big Three” of management consultancies. Founded in 1973 by former BCG employees, Bain rapidly established itself as an international competitor. Despite its rise to fame, Bain defied corporate standards by maintaining an employee turnover rate of 8 percent, compared to 20 percent for its competitors.

It differentiated itself by having consultants work with clients on long-term projects. Whereas BCG and McKinsey consultants may fly in to study, analyze, and advise a client’s business for several months, Bain will hold these relationships for several years. But the firm is extremely secretive. Writer Naficy Mariam called it, “the KGB of consulting.”

It also recruits recent Ivy League graduates in the hopes of transforming their brainpower into Bain’s power.

Event: Unlike its competitors, Bain didn’t have a singular presentation for students. Instead, it hosted a coffee chat at Small World Coffee. There was free food, so I went.

Upon walking in, I immediately saw that Small World was busier than usual. A bunch of students were clustered in the back-left corner. I joined a group with two other seniors. They were English and molecular biology majors.

Our recruiter was about 25 years old, had brown hair parted to one side, and wide eyes. He introduced himself as an industrial engineering major from Sweden. For the first three minutes, he explained Bain’s LGBT and “inclusivity” network. Then, he took our questions.

Compared to BCG and McKinsey, the Bain representative seemed the most genuine. He said that he went into consulting because it allowed him, “to work on interesting problems” and that, “investment banking was too much about making money.” He worked 9:00 am – 6:00 pm on good days and 9:00 am – 9:00 pm on bad days. Employees are expected to do a lot of work during those hours. Consultants are given a letter grade A – F for the quality of their work.

He said that approximately 20 percent of consultants leave Bain within the first two years. The end of the third year is a big promotion point. Some go to business school, and others do not return. Employees who don’t receive a promotion are laid off.

At the end, I asked why I should join Bain over its competitors. He gave me the dirt on BCG and McKinsey. BCG puts employees into varying performance levels. Consultants in the bottom level are usually laid off. McKinsey ranks new consultants 1-50, which effects their bonuses and projects. If consultants initially perform well, they are placed on better projects where they are more likely to succeed. Those who have a bad start or misstep during their career are placed on successively worse projects that are harder to get good results out of. This “downward spiral” continues until the consultant is either laid off or performs a miracle to get outstanding results from a bad project.

Goldman Sachs

Entry Position: Operations Analyst

Starting Salary: $50,450 /year, $8,630 year-end bonus

Requirements: Undergraduate degree

Description: Goldman Sachs. Every heard of it? (an allusion to the Twitter account @GSElevator)

Since 1869, Goldman Sachs has been in the thick of Wall Street; in fact, Goldman is the epitome of it. The firm’s activities encompass nearly every country, industry, and business deal in the world. But it had a prominent role in causing the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis and was subsequently knocked off of its lofty pedestal, albeit temporarily.

For Ivy League students, a Goldman Sachs job is the envy of all. It provides maximum name recognition, high salaries, and a prime location at the center of New York City stock trading. Even though its reputation was tainted, that hasn’t stopped thousands of students from applying to work for them. Two dozen Princeton students gathered one fall evening to dip their toes into the waters of investment banking.

Event: Goldman Sachs hosted its information session at the Nassau Inn — Princeton’s fanciest hotel — on September 26, 2017. I walked through the lobby to the basement ballroom. Everyone was conservatively dressed in suits. They looked like bankers. Unlike the consulting meetings, no one wore slim suits or cocktail dresses; there was a more rigid schoomzey atmosphere like that of a corporate boardroom. I recognized a few people. They were the hard-core business types and not English majors wondering what to do with their lives.

Some Goldman employees ushered us into the main ballroom, which was arranged like a cocktail party with small tables scattered around it and a screen at the front. I came into this information session with high expectations for the legendary Goldman Sachs. But I was sorely disappointed. Instead, it was the most boring presentation that I have witnessed since coming to Princeton.

The first presenter was a Princeton alumnus who majored in politics. In a dull, monotone voice, he covered the technical details of what the bank does. He talked about equity, derivatives, and fixed income without defining what they were. The jargon was stifling.

He said that the interview was designed to see how people think by asking them both hard and weird questions. They could range from a case study of a finance scenario to asking for the product of seven cubed. Once hired, Goldman invests in its employees by providing them with a lot of training and professional development. Like all of the other firms, the recruiter sprinkled in Millennial buzzwords like, “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “make an impact.”

The funniest line that I heard from all of the Wall Street meetings was when the Goldman presenter said, “Goldman Sachs has something similar to a start-up culture.” I’m not a business expert, but I’m fairly confident that Goldman hasn’t been a start-up for at least a century. My entrepreneurial friends laughed when I told them about this line.

Next, they transitioned into a panel discussion with four Princeton alumni, all of whom were Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) majors. They were corporate zombies, speaking with tired voices. It was evident that they worked long hours with little rest. None of them smiled. The students also began with a technical description of their jobs chalked full of jargon. These people have forgotten how to talk to outsiders.

The panel explained how employees, “strive for excellence at Goldman” because its flattened hierarchy allowed young workers to introduce new ideas. Goldman is, “a people-oriented firm” where, when evaluating applicants, they wonder, “Will an applicant work for you or with you?” At the end, they introduced ten current Princeton students who interned for Goldman Sachs over the past summer and were continuing their work there after graduation.

By then, the audience looked as though it was going to fall asleep. If it weren’t for the firm’s reputation and salaries, I think that the students would have left. Some were on their phones.

*  *  *  *  *


Ivy League students are drawn to Wall Street’s tune of money and prestige like kids following the Pied Piper. I estimate that a third of those going into finance do so because they are genuinely interested in business. But the other two thirds are attracted by its high salaries and dreams of opening doors to new careers.

Surprisingly, the recruitment meetings emphasized the latter and not the former. Generally, most people know that Wall Street firms pay big salaries to new employees; however, the companies didn’t heavily promote this. Instead, their meetings primarily focused on exploiting students’ insecurities about their future careers.

Consulting has become a popular career choice because it has Wall Street’s glamour without the investment banks’ tarnished reputations from the Great Recession. But they are far from the utopia that they claim. In a nutshell, consulting firms specialize in gathering data from other companies and then advising them on maximizing profits. They accomplish this through layoffs, increasing work hours, using metrics to ruthlessly squeeze every ounce of productivity out of workers, or some combination of them. While watching the information sessions, I realized that consulting firms use these same methods to analyze their own employees. This thought hasn’t occurred to many, if any, other students. (For the record, Bain had the best pitch of the three firms, followed by McKinsey and BCG, respectively.)

As far as I can tell, the sky-high salaries are the only thing that is appealing about investment banking. But it’s also possible that Goldman just had a bad pitch for the industry. Perhaps I’ll get a better idea after reading Liar’s Poker.

By writing this, I don’t mean to disparage those who sell out; I don’t have any moral objections against them. If students want to subject themselves to high stress environments in pursuit of money, that’s fine. I’ll also buy into Professor Peter Singer’s effective altruism argument. He claims that students can do more good by making huge profits while working on Wall Street and then donating a portion of them to charity than by being a career worker at an aide organization.

Watching these finance recruitment meetings was simply a fascinating process to analyze. Wall Street is so good at targeting Ivy League Millennials that it’s scary. They know exactly which buzzwords to use and how to make their presentations appealing to my generation. With these techniques, they hire the country’s greatest young brainpower to get the best bang for their buck.

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Expédition au Maroc

In grade school, everyone is taught that a meteorite killed the dinosaurs. The “Alvarez Hypothesis” posits that a large asteroid hit the Earth 65 million years ago. Its impact caused a large tsunami and threw dust into the atmosphere that blocked the Sun for an extended period of time. This caused photosynthetic failure, and the food chain collapsed.

It all began in the late 1970s when geologist Walter Alvarez sampled a layer at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary. His father Luis Alvarez — a Nobel Prize winning physicist — helped him analyze the samples for various metals. They found a spike in iridium at the time of the K-Pg extinction. Iridium is rare in the Earth’s crust but abundant in meteorites. In 1980, they proposed their hypothesis that a meteorite was responsible for the dinosaurs’ demise. Ten years later, geologists found an impact crater in Chixulub, Mexico that matched the description of the hypothesized rock.

But many scientists at that time were skeptical of their findings. Another plausible hypothesis was that the Deccan Traps — a series of large volcanoes in India — erupted shortly before the K-Pg boundary, causing climatic changes that ultimately created a mass extinction. The evidence at that time for this hypothesis consisted of the facts that various species had already been in decline for thousands of years prior to the K-Pg boundary and carbon-13 isotopes indicated global warming that shifted to abrupt cooling at the start of the Paleogene.

My professor started her research in this field nearly thirty years ago. As the number of supporters for Deccan volcanism dwindled from new evidence and bullying from other scientists, she stood firm in her belief that volcanism killed the dinosaurs. One of her biggest contributions to the debate was finding glass spherules several meters below the K-Pg boundary at an outcrop in Mexico. Supporters of the Alvarez hypothesis claim that these spherules are crystallized ejecta that rained down shortly after the meteorite’s impact. Their newfound placement means that the asteroid impact may have preceded the boundary by as much as 300,000 years. Additionally, recent research spearheaded by my professor and another Princeton geologist shows that Deccan volcanism correlates more closely in time to the K-Pg boundary than previously thought.

This debate — along with the study of Earth’s other four mass extinctions — is the topic for my class GEO 365. Last week, we traveled to Morocco to learn more about mass extinctions and the planet’s history.

Day 1— I lined up with my class on Ivy Lane at 14:00 to wait for our bus to the JFK airport. Once onboard, we rocketed to New York City. By 21:00, our flight had departed for Casablanca, Morocco.

Day 2— I could hardly sleep on the airplane, but I awoke to see Morocco’s brown desert. We landed in a thick fog that prevented us from seeing further than twenty feet. As we stepped off of the airplane, the air was hardly 60ºF. But the Sun quickly warmed it. Our guides loaded our luggage into a van, and we traveled southward. One guide was a Swiss member of my professor’s original K-Pg research team.

The land was barren with brown soil covering rolling hills. But even the soil disappeared and was replaced by rocks the further south we went. There were few trees. Everyone fell asleep. I briefly awoke during the drive through the Meseta — a plain between the Atlantic coast and Atlas Mountains — to see the flat desert pavement stretch to the horizon in all directions.

We stopped at an outcrop near Marrakech, one of Morocco’s largest cities. The Swiss geologist gave us an hourlong overview of the Atlas Mountains’ formation. In short, they are the product of failed rifting (Liassic), Africa colliding with Iberian peninsula (Early Cretaceous), Africa pulling away from South America (Mid-Cretaceous), continental uplifting from moving towards Eurasia (Santonian), and three compressional events with Africa-Europe convergence (Eocene).

As I scanned the area, I noticed a mesa in the distance. The landscape reminded me of the American southwest. Throughout the day, we continued to stop on the roadside to look at rocks. We slept in between the stops. Many of the roads have steep plunges with no guardrails along their sides as they wind up the mountainsides.

The Atlas Mountains were barren. They were colored with a variety of dark reds, yellows, and browns. We never crossed a river while driving through them.

The bus passed several villages. All of the buildings are square, and the mosque’s minaret is the tallest structure in each locale.

We stopped for the night at a hotel in Ouarzazate.


Lunch: khobz bread, peppers, onions, La Vache Qui Rit cheese

Dinner: chicken tajine dish (chicken and steamed vegetables)


Day 3 — We left the hotel and took pictures at a pyramidal building. Ouarzazate is known as the “door of the desert.” Directors frequently use it to cast desert scenes because of its convenient location. These include: Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Game of Thrones.

On the outskirts of town, we stopped to learn about foreland basins. As the Swiss geologist was delivering a lecture, a herd of goats walked around us. Next, we made an excursion to the Dadès Gorge where we studied the emplacement of conglomerates.

Our following stop was at a small valley. To get there, two thirds of the class piled into a small SUV. The other six, including myself, had to stand on the car’s running boards. After driving two kilometers, we stopped to look at dinosaur tracks. They were over two feet long. The valley looked like a set for Tatooine from Star Wars. I was waiting for some Tusken Raiders to jump out from behind a rock.

We then went to another section of the Dadès Gorge. To reach it, we drove up steep switchbacks. Its step-like walls plunged three thousand feet into a river below. A hotel sat on the precipice’s edge at the top. It looked like it would teeter over the edge at any minute.

While continuing southward, we observed a conglomerate rock formation. It was exotic. The red rock had a bubble pattern that made it look like the remnant of some big splash. In reality, it was created as a result of the conglomerate’s unique erosion pattern in wind and rain.

Our final stop was in Todra Gorge. My professor told us that there was an old hotel in the canyon that previous classes had stayed in. She stopped going to it because a boulder from the canyon wall crushed its dining pavilion.

As the sun set, the Swiss geologist instructed our class to measure rock layers in the canyons. We worked into the dark and presented our results upon arrival at the hotel “Chez Aïche.” Following dinner, several of us went onto the hotel roof to look at the stars.

A dog barked at the Moon.


Breakfast: khobz, butter, yogurt

Lunch: khobz, peppers, onions, cheese

Dinner: beef tajine, dates


Day 4— The golden morning light basked the orange mountaintops against the cerulean sky. I hadn’t realized this at night, but the hotel was surrounded by mountains on all sides.

After breakfast, we drove to Jbel Ouarkziz (“jbel” means mountain). Swiss Geologist told us to look at the rocks and determine the area’s paleoenvironment. Although I worked on the marine layers at Zumaia, Spain this spring, I had forgotten a few things. As I was studying the rocks, I overlooked the turbidites cutting through the ridge. They indicated that the area was once on the submarine continental slope.

From the top of the hill, I saw the Anti-Atlas Mountains in the distance. Some of its closer hills appeared as though their sides were sheered off, exposing their complex folds. Everything was brown.

Back on the road, we stopped to look at a series of ten-foot tall mounds. They were holes into the ground that were used to dig tunnels. In Medieval times, townspeople created them to transport water from the Anti-Atlas Mountains. People had been using them until thirty years ago.

Our last stop of the day was at an outcrop outside of a town. We searched for the black shale that denoted the end-Devonian mass extinction. Each shale layer represented one Kellwasser Event, an extinction pulse. Nobody could find them, so Swiss geologist finally showed us.

Some kids were fishing at a nearby stream. They tried to sell us a fish that they had caught and put in a water bottle.

We ended the day at a hotel near Merzouga. There was a large sand desert, called Erg Chebbi, adjacent to it. It was the first desert that I saw that looked like what I had pictured. Classical orange Saharan sand dunes towered over the dry pavement around them. Some Berbers mounted us on camels, and we rode into the desert.

As the Sun set over the Anti-Atlas Mountains, the dunes blazed brightly. When it finally disappeared behind the parks, the sky turned a deep azure. The novelty of riding a camel wore off in ten minutes; it hurt to ride bow-legged.

We arrived at a prearranged camp and moved into nomad tents, which were made of thick green and red cloths. Dinner was not served for two hours. In the meantime, a classmate played the drums and another told a joke story.

After dinner, I went with another student to the top of a nearby dune to take night pictures. Others soon joined us. The Moon was a spotlight. I could practically read a book under it. Stars blazed fiercely into the black sky. We returned to camp where the Berbers had built a campfire. They taught us some of their traditional dances.

I, along with a few others, slept out under the stars with only a mat and blanket. The cool desert air descended onto the camp.


Breakfast: eggs, bread, butter, jelly, tea

Lunch: khobz, tuna, cheese, avocado

Dinner: tomato and chickpea salad, chicken tajine, dates, tea.

I have never really like tea. But I started drinking the Moroccan tea on this trip out of courtesy. It was served with almost every meal. Eventually, I came to like it.


Day 5— I became cold in the night and woke up around 4:00. The Moon had set, so the sky was darker. But I could still see even without a flashlight. I realized my good fortune and decided to take pictures of the night sky. Everyone else arose at 5:30, departing at 6:00 to watch the Sun rise.

Back at the hotel, we ate breakfast and then left to continue our geological tour. The first stop was Hamar Lackhad Ridge. We had to ride on the outside of the SUV again to reach it. We hiked up a valley that had a strange set of mounds that were ~100 feet tall scattered around it. The ridge was composed of seafloor from the Ordovician period. The Swiss geologist explained that scientists had determined that the mounds were once underwater mud volcanoes driven by geothermal heat. We hiked to the top of one of these mounds, called a “kess-kess.” At the summit, I saw the expansive plain. There was nothing but brown desert.

We descended to study a fault line. Then, we looked for fossils near the ridge’s base. After lunch, we stopped in a trilobite fossil shop. Next, we looked for our own trilobites near Jbel Mani as the Moon rose over its peaks. I found a few pieces but nothing spectacular.


Breakfast: khobz, muffin, yogurt

Lunch: khobz, tuna, avocado, cheese

Dinner: khobz, lentil soup, chicken tagine, banana


Day 6— We left our hotel to eat breakfast in a nearby restaurant. Our first stop after that was at a wide gorge. Its walls were composed of alternating limestone and shale layers. While driving to the next location, we traveled to a mining district to see ophiolites. Foreigners were not permitted to see the mine. The Swiss geologist explained that the people were unhealthy, and there were reports of children being used for dangerous work.

After lunch, we observed a spectacular volcanic dyke that was part of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, the likely cause of the end-Triassic mass extinction. As we drove closer to it, I watched dust devils dance around the valley. Some of them were 100 meters wide.

We ended the day near a small town that was adjacent to a river oasis. The river had cut a canyon in as little as 8,000 years. To my back, the Moon rose over an ancient Ordovician ridge.

That night, we stayed in the hotel La Renaissance at the edge of the Saharan Desert. The Swiss geologist told us that the next major town was Timbuktu, over 1,500 kilometers to the south in Mali.


Breakfast— khobz, butter, orange juice

Lunch: khobz, onions, tuna, cheese, avocado

Dinner: beef tajine, lentil soup, khobz, orange soda


Day 7— Two students were sick from dinner. Everyone else was fine. The first stop was at an Ordovician range several miles from town. We hiked back into a valley to study Cambrian-aged alternating limestone and shale layers. The Swiss geologist said that they were deposits from extreme tides and storms. One student did not believe it and fiercely questioned him. The Swiss geologist then explained that the layers’ alternations showed Milankovitch cyclicality. I remained skeptical of this considering my group’s findings in Zumaia.

While we were in the valley, a man approached us from the direction that we had just came. I have no idea how he got there. It was a long walk from the town. He asked several times if we had marijuana. We said no. Then he walked up into the mountains.

The rest of our day comprised primarily of driving westward to the coast by Tiznit. Western Morocco is more verdant than its interior. It looked like the Mediterranean coast. Once at the ocean, we walked along the beach and under a sea arch. Later that night, I went back to the beach to take sky pictures.


Breakfast: khobz, butter, orange juice

Lunch: khobz, cheese

Dinner: khobz, chickpea soup, grilled fish, rice, boiled vegetables, apple slices, cake


Day 8— I walked around the beach in the morning. When I approached a rock outcrop jutting into the ocean, I saw a stray puppy jumping around. It spotted me, and, yipping from the cold, followed me back to the steps of the hotel, Club Auberge. The parent dogs spotted me and then ran over to care for the puppy. But it followed me up the hotel steps and stayed under the table as we ate breakfast.

The road northward snaked along the coast with spectacular ocean overlooks. After traveling for a week through the desert, it was good to see water. By midday, we stopped onto of a big hill near Agadir. The city is a big tourist destination. The Swiss geologist taught us about an earthquake that struck Agadir in 1960. For decades, people didn’t build on top of the fault. But a construction project recently placed condominiums on it. The fault is still active. Another earthquake could strike Agadir any day.

Just north of the city, we passed a white walled compound on the coast. The Swiss geologist explained that it was owned by a brother of the King of Saudi Arabia. One of the other brothers became jealous and built an even larger tan walled vacation compound a mere 200 meters north of it. There used to be a cement factory near the compounds, but they forced it to close and move 100 kilometers inland.

Next, we walked along a cliff on a beach to look at a past oceanic anoxic event — meaning that oxygen levels in the ocean were low — from the Cretaceous. It reminded me of Zumaia because of its alternating limestone and marl layers. When The Swiss geologist finished his final lesson, everyone applauded. As we walked back to the car, the Sun lowered towards the horizon.

By nautical twilight, we were at another beach, looking a small set of dinosaur tracks. Our hotel for the night, Hotel Littoral, was fantastic. We were placed in a small apartment. After dinner, our Moroccan guide brought us three homemade cakes.


Breakfast: khobz, butter, pan au chocolat, orange juice

Lunch: khobz, avocado, cheese

Dinner: sausage, couscous, chicken, khobz, and chocolate, coconut, and apple cakes


Day 9— Our trek continued northward from Agadir after breakfast. The black tarmac followed the coast, passing a tall white lighthouse. Then, it headed inland. At one point, we stopped along the road to look at some goats in a tree. They eat their Argania fruits. Then, shepherds harvest the fruit’s seeds from the goats’ droppings, and it is turned into argan oil.

At noon, we rested in Essaouira and walked around. The old part of the city is in an old Portuguese trading fort. It’s very touristy with a lot of Europeans. I walked around with some friends for some time before eating lunch on a restaurant’s balcony. Around 14:30, we continued onward to Marrakech.

Before arriving in the city, we stopped in a cooperative where divorced women make argan oil. They showed us all of the steps to making it and the oil’s various uses.

As we entered Marrakech, there was a well-developed strip of high end hotels and resorts. We didn’t stay there. Instead, we stayed in the Grand Hotel Taziz near the city’s center. My professor said that it was a dive hotel from her backpacking trip across northern Africa in the 1970s.

“Dive” was an accurate description. All of the guys stayed in a single room with five mattresses. Located on the roof, our room had half inch deep holes in the wall, light pink blankets, lightbulbs hanging out of the walls, red and white striped drapes, black and white checkerboard flooring, a loop of wire hanging out of the ceiling, a moldy shower, and vomit in the toilet when we first arrived. The rooms’ door handle was barely hanging by a screw. Instead of having a glass peephole, our door had a one-inch diameter hole drilled into it. Morocco doesn’t have too much gun crime due to strict ownership laws, but one of the country’s few shootings occurred in the area during the previous week.

Our group then went to Morocco’s largest open air market, called a “souk.” The streets were swarmed with people. It was intense. After dinner, we went shopping in the market. Most of the goods were cheap Chinese junk. I went with a friend to the souk’s center to watch him buy a pair of fake Nike shoes. I noticed that the store owner was not very interested in negotiating. At that moment, I noticed that several people were glued to a television screen. Casablanca’s soccer team was playing Cairo for the African championship. Two minutes later, the square erupted into cheering. Casablanca won.

Later that night, I went onto the hotel’s roof to take pictures with another student. Cars drove through the square while honking horns and waving Moroccan flags to celebrate the soccer victory. A horde of 50 motorcycles even crowded the intersection as they drove around town in their quasi-victory parade.


Breakfast: khobz, jam, butter, cake

Lunch: cheese omelette

Dinner: chicken kabob, fries

Dessert: crêpe with Nutella


Day 10— We awoke at 5:00 to leave for our flight. The streets — which had been filled by an open air market only a few hours earlier — were dead. Everyone slept on the drive to Casablanca. I stayed awake to watch the sun rise over the horizon of the Meseta.

Our bus stopped at a gas station for breakfast. While we were eating, one student said that there was a rat under the table. A gray rodent scrambled out into the aisle. Then, a worker punted it into the air, stomped on it, and kicked it out the door like a soccer ball.

We arrived at the airport and departed on time. The class arrived at Princeton by 20:30. I raced up to Nassau Street before the restaurants closed at 21:00 and ate at PJ’s. When I returned to my dorm, I immediately went to bed.


Breakfast: pan au chocolat, flatbread with Nutella

Lunch: grilled chicken sandwich, fries, chicken and rice, cake, bread

Dinner: hamburger, fries, chocolate milkshake


* * * * *


Morocco was a fascinating country. Its barren landscape was simple yet stunning. Its natural history goes back over a billion years, but people have just started to understand it during the past century. Our trip was a mere overview of its known record over the course of a week, barely a window of its entire story. One day, I hope to return and study it at greater depth.


A Typical Daily Schedule

  • 6:30: Wake up
  • 7:00-7:45: Breakfast
  • 8:30-13:00: Geology touring
  • 13:00: Lunch
  • 13:30-19:00: Geology touring
  • 19:00: Arrive at hotel
  • 20:30: Dinner
  • 21:30-0:00: Talk, play games, take pictures


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