Sunday, December 20, 2009

Princetonian For A Day

An odd request to share MY TOWERING WISDOM came in a recent invitation to speak at Princeton University. The subject? Christmas and Christmas cards. The venue? An intro-level course called "Sociology from E-Street: Bruce Springsteen's America," created and taught by renowned sociologist Mitchell Duneier.

~ Sample architectural symbol of aforementioned towering wisdom ~

Why me? For that matter, why Bruce? Because Prof. Duneier is not the usual theory-obsessed academic. He has a deep interest in empathy, both as observed in society and as practiced by sociologists and ethnographers. So his idea of greeting cards as an empathetically-imagined vehicle for social connection met his interest in exploring cultural issues through the lens of Springsteen's famously socially-aware songs (the raucous cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is atypical, but fit this particular hour), resulting in a December 17th class about Christmas, Christmas cards, and associated social meanings.

It was cool. Prof. Duneier interviewed me and a fellow writer in a big lecture hall of about 200 students, with a little Q&A after. We then attended a small break-out section of the class for a conversation that ranged all over the topic. Such bright, sweet kids, so easy to talk to (I'm not sure what I expected... bluebloods with monocles and George Plimpton accents, maybe?), exploring a wide range of issues and sharing personal stories that illuminated them.

At the end of the first class, two kids got up on the stage of the big lecture hall and played the featured song on guitars and harmonica, and everybody sang and clapped along. It was the kind of day that gives a semi-cynical guy a little faith in the future.

Afterwards, a few students came up and asked about the job, internships, possibilities. It's the worst time to apply for work at Hallmark since the Great Depression, but you never know. I'm sure we'll hear from a few of these marvelous kids--either as job applicants or as movers and shakers in the world at large. There was a lot of soulful brainpower in and among those ivy-clad buildings.

~ Nassau Hall at Princeton, where I practice pedantry now and then ~

The school was founded in 1746. My photos of other magnificent buildings came out shitty, shot with an iPhone in low light. It's an amazing campus. If you ever get a chance to be a visiting PRINCETON EDUCATOR LIKE ME, don't miss it.

~ A pedant non-euphemistically "rubbing the tiger" at Nassau Hall ~

I thought I had a picture of Prof. Duneier and me mugging by a statue or something, but all I find is the one above. There's a squirrel in the ivy behind me, but you can't hear it scolding me for touching the big tigger on the steps, or for looking somewhat bloated from being wined and dined on the university budget the night before.

Beautiful place, beautiful people, beautiful day. A great way to close out the year. Happy 2010 from me, Princeton lecturer and holiday deadbeat who sent out only half the usual number of cards. Welcome, new austerity and laziness.