Seniors 2021

A Message from the Director of Undergraduate Studies

Princeton University Gates drawing with Class of 2021

What a year this has been! Mastering the challenges of senior year—from completing independent research projects to navigating the transition to a new phase of life—is an accomplishment even in the most uneventful of times. You had to confront these challenges in the middle of a global health emergency that upended individual, institutional, and societal routines all at once and created an ever-shifting environment in which old certainties collapsed and new difficulties emerged. Graduating as part of the class of 2021 meant having to devise your capstone projects with limited access to research materials and campus resources, navigating the inevitable highs and lows of your final year at Princeton without the full support of in-person communities, and rushing through the spring semester on an unusually compressed timeline. Whether you think you pulled through bravely or just barely made it, the fact that you crossed the finish line this year is a formidable achievement. When future students spot the class stone of 2021 in front of Nassau Hall, they will no doubt remember your accomplishments as they think of the adverse circumstances under which you have graduated, amidst a global pandemic and against an uncertain horizon.

The circumstances of this year also meant that you had to grapple much earlier with what others only learn much later: that even the best-laid plans can be quickly thwarted by forces beyond your control. As you now know, accomplishments more often result from learning to accept and surmount adversities than from controlling all variables to ensure a perfect outcome. In the world into which you are graduating, the ability to navigate shifting grounds and deal with uncertainty will serve you well. A humanistic education like the one your received in the German department retains a stubborn Eigenwert that resists instrumental metrics. Yet the skills you have acquired, evidenced so impressively in your theses and final exams, will also prepare you for a complex world in ways that are difficult to measure: you have learned to think on your feet, to interrogate the medial, historical, and linguistic forces that shape the contemporary world, and thus to critically reflect about problems that do not allow for a technical fix or a single, straightforward solution. Of occasions for such reflection, I’m afraid, there will be no shortage any time soon.

This year’s group of graduating German majors has been truly extraordinary. We will miss the intellectual vibrancy, the inquisitiveness and affability, but also the sense of camaraderie you brought to the department. I hope you will all stay in touch with each other as much as with other department members. For all the trials and tribulations it took to get to this point, graduation comes at a rather felicitous time, as you are graduating into a world that is finally beginning to reopen. May your sense of achievement and satisfaction this graduation be a dual one: sustained both by the collective sigh of relief as we see increasing vaccination and falling incidence numbers in many places and by a sense of pride in what you have done in your studies.

To the class of 2021, I extend my gratitude for your contribution to intellectual life at Princeton, my well-wishes for your futures, and my sincere admiration and respect for all you have accomplished this year. Happy graduation!